Which Came First – The Repentant Heart or The Forgiveness of God?

lent

“Forgiveness” is an extremely difficult concept to grasp, especially when it comes to the forgiveness of God. It is very hard, for me at least, to wrap my head around God’s forgiveness. When does God forgive us? Do we have to “clean up our act” before God can forgive us? Do we have to confess our sins before we have a chance to be forgiven by God? Do we have to perform some sort of penance in order for God to forgive us? The Lenten Season is a good time to meditate [“chew on”] the awesome and unfathomable forgiveness of God.

ASH WEDNESDAY

When did God forgive us?

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – BUT GOD SHOWS HIS LOVE FOR US IN THAT WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS, CHRIST DIED FOR US. Since, therefore, we have been now justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God” [Romans 5:6-9].

God planned to forgive us “while we were yet sinners” through the Christ’s Perfect Sacrifice on the cross. God’s plan to save sinners [I am a sinner] began “before the foundation of the world.” Sinners need only to get with God’s plan and accept His free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, in order to experience the joy of God‘s forgiveness of all their sins. [Read Romans 3:23 and 6:23]

wolman at the well

Do we have to “clean up our act” by not sinning anymore before we have a chance to be forgiven by God?

“Bless be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as HE CHOSE US IN HIM BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD, THAT WE SHOULD BE HOLY AND BLAMESS BEFORE HIM” [Ephesians 1:3-4]

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” [I Corinthians 15:56-57].

Baby with lamb

We cannot stop sinning in our own strength because we are weak. For example, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when we see a sign that reads, “DO NOT TOUCH – WET PAINT.” We cannot make ourselves perfect before God. Jesus, the “Spotless Lamb of God” who died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, is the One who makes us “holy and blameless before [the Father]” When God looks at a sinner who has accepted His Son’s Perfect Sacrifice, He no longer looks at the sin; The Heavenly Father sees His Son the “blameless Lamb of God.” Jesus is the Only One who gives us His power over sin and death. [Read John 1:29 and I Peter 1:18-19].

the truth shall set you free

Do we have to confess our sins before we have a chance to be forgiven by God?

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will become like wool” [Isaiah 1:18].

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [Jesus] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” [I John 1:8-9].

casting crowns 2

God calls us to be truthful with ourselves and with Him. He wants us to be aware of our sins in order to know how much we have been forgiven and how much we need Jesus’ once-for-all Perfect Sacrifice, which cleanses us and makes us whole. When we become aware of our sins, it is only then that we can truly be grateful for God’s forgiveness through His One and Only Son Jesus Christ. God‘s forgiveness of all our sins causes our heart of stone to turn into a “repentant heart”. God is always waiting for us to come to Him, to confess our sins to Him, to accept His forgiveness of all our sins and receive His power to begin the journey of repentance [turning away from sin] and a new life in Christ. I believe that God‘s forgiveness leads to repentance and not the other way around. It is God Who takes the first step.

casting crowns 1.

Do we have to perform some sort of penance in order for God to forgive us?

“For the death [Jesus] died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” [Romans 6:10-11].

“And just as is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him” [Hebrews 9:27-28].

“Where there is forgiveness of these [sins], there is no longer any offering [penance] for sin” [Hebrews 10:18].

“For Christ also suffered once for sin, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” [I Peter 3:18).

Christ Crucified

God doesn’t want us to perform an impersonal penance, such as reciting prayers by rote or doing self-righteous acts of charity or even by denying ourselves of something we enjoy, in order appease God by paying for our own sins. The above Scriptures tell us that Jesus did what we could never do on our own. Jesus paid for all our sins by shedding His own blood on the cross and died for all our sins ONCE AND FOR ALL. Instead of doing periodical penance, God wants us to be “dead to sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.” Instead of giving God our imperfect [dead] sacrifices, God wants us to give our entire lives to Him. He wants us to be “living sacrifices” by accepting His forgiveness, which leads to our NEW LIVES IN CHRIST. The NEW LIFE IN CHRIST is not motivated by guilt or false piety, but by LOVE and GRATITUDE and THANKFULNESS for what Jesus has done for us on the cross. This New Life is lived through the power of the Holy Spirit.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a LIVING SACRIFICE, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [rational] worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” [Romans 12:1-2].

forgiveness 2

During this Lenten Season I am meditating on the Forgiveness of God. Although my thinking is limited to human understanding and vocabulary, the Holy Spirit is not limited to human words or comprehension. I do not perfectly understand the infinite things of God. With God’s leading, I am growing into a deeper relationship with Him as I meditate on His ways.

a. praying hands

 

DEAR FATHER GOD, MAY WE TRULY UNDERSTAND YOUR UNLIMITED FORGIVENESS TOWARD YOUR FOLLOWERS, THROUGH CHRIST OUR LORD AND IN THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.

The Lyd

                                                      Lydia
This may be my last blog post for awhile because my 9-year-old computer is running on fumes. I may be looking for a new computer sooner than later.

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Think, Fast, Pray, Read and Do “IT” (Part V)

march madnessbrackets

Even when we stop thinking about “God things” God never stops thinking about us. Last Friday, I did take a break from my Lenten disciplines and watched a few “March Madness” NCAA men’s basketball games. I was happy that Duke lost, but sad that UMASS did not win. I usually fill out three brackets but, this year did not fill out any for the first time in about six years. I found out that it was less stressful watching the games without a bracket because I didn’t feel the need to flip channels every ten minutes. While watching Mercer verses Duke and Tennessee verses UMASS, two TV commercials for LOWE’S Home Improvement Store caught my attention. It was almost like God said to me, “This is what Lent is all about.”

The two commercials had a person finishing two different home improvement projects. One finished putting up a ceiling fan, and the other was putting up new ceramic tiles in his shower. You can guess what happens next. It was almost too painful to watch. When the person finishes tightening the last screw in the ceiling fan, he goes to the wall switch and turns on the ceiling fan. It does one rotation and crashes down on a glass coffee table. We see more shattering glass when the fan comes flying out a picture window. In another commercial, a person is carefully placing the last ceramic tile on the shower wall and it falls and shatters in the shower tub. Before anyone thinks that he just needs to put more adhesive on that one tile, one by one, the tiles come crashing down and breaking, then a whole bunch crash down and break and finally, the last tile hanging comes crashing down into the pile of rubble in the shower tub. There is no talking in these to commercials. They both end with a written tagline: “Need help? LOWES – Never Stop Improving”. During this special time of year, God is telling Christians everywhere, almost the same thing, but in a slightly different order: “LENT – Never Stop Improving. Need Help?” I know that I cannot “improve” myself without the Lord‘s help. All I have to do is admit that I need God’s help and ask Him for help and He will Do “IT”.

a commercial

At times, I need help in knowing how to pray, even when I use the acronym C.A.S.T. and I know that in prayer I “CAST all [my] anxieties on [Jesus] because He cares for [me]” (I Peter 5:7). I am so thankful that “…the Holy Spirit helps [me] in [my] weakness. [I] do not know what [I] ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for [me] with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches [my] heart knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints [me, a follower of Christ] in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:26b-27). I am exceedingly thankful that “Christ Jesus, Who died – more than that, Who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for [me]” (Romans 8:34b). Finally, I am thankful for God’s Word which helps me to pray, especially the Bible’s Book of Prayer – The Psalms. As I have been doing throughout this paragraph, as I read the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, I can personalize them and pray them to the Lord.

praying handsc. praying prostrate

READ AND PRAY:

C= Confession (continued from Parts II, III and IV): “Blessed is [she] whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sin the LORD does not count against [her] and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long…Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’ and He forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:1-3, 5). As I pray this Psalm, the Holy Spirit reveals the sins I need to confess and ask God for His forgiveness. Also I need to know, “[God] does not treat [me] as [my] sins deserve or repays [me] according to my iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those [like me] who fear [honor] Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed [my] transgressions from [me]” (Psalm 103:10-12). One of the hardest things to do is to forgive myself. But, if I don’t forgive myself, I am saying that Jesus’ dying on the cross for my sins was not enough and I don’t want to say that. If God doesn’t “fill out a bracket” to keep “score of my wins and losses”, who am I to “keep score” and keep feeling guilty for the sins God already forgave me for? (Other Psalms of Confession: 6, 38, 51, 143)

a. praying handsb. kneeing in prayer

A= Adoration (continued from Part IV): Prayers of Adoration are prayers of praise and worship for Who God is. Worship is giving God His worth, praising His Holy Name and acknowledging His attributes. God is All-Knowing and All-Powerful (Psalm 147:5); God is everywhere (Psalm 139:7-7-14); God is unchanging (Psalm 90:1-2, Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8); God is Holy [Pure and Blameless] (Psalm 99:9); God is Righteous [shows no favoritism in His dealings with mankind] (Psalm 116:5; 129:4; 145:17); God is in charge of everything (Psalm 103:19-22); God is Love (Psalm 103:17 and Psalm 136); God is Merciful (Psalm 103:8); God is the Triune God (Genesis 1:1,26; Psalm 51:11 and 103:26 and Psalm 110); just to name a few of His attributes. (Other Psalms of Adoration: 8, 33, 95-100, 109, 118. I am sure there are others.) (See whatchristianswanttoknow.com.)

One of my favorite Psalms of Adoration is:

moon and starssunshine

Psalm 8

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!
You have set Your Glory above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise
because of Your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars which You have set in place,
what is man that You are mindful of him,
the son of man that You care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of Your hands;
You put everything under his feet:
all the flocks and herds, and beasts of the fields,
the birds of the air and the fish of the sea,
all swim the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!”

My Good SideimagesCAEA2RP3

Dear Father God, You have taken all my “broken brackets” and shattered dreams and given me Your Love which endures forever, Your grace which makes me free and Your forgiveness through the broken body and shed blood of Jesus, my Lord and Savior. Thank You Jesus for washing all my sins away. Thank You Jesus for dying on the cross for me and for rising from the dead, so that I will also rise again on the last day. Thank You for Your forgiveness. I am forever grateful for the Cross of Christ. Dear Holy Spirit, help me to forgive others as Jesus has forgiven me. I pray for those who have not embraced Your Love yet. Please Father, make Yourself known to them. To know You is to love You. You are an AWESOME GOD and I love You and I want to serve You forever in Your Kingdom. I want to love others as You love me! Please forgive me for the times I don’t love as You love. Your love is unconditional and free. Thank you so much for listening to my prayer. In the Precious Name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

good friday6jesus arose

“Now to the King eternal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen (I Timothy 1:17).

WORSHIPIMG_1951

 

Lydia

Think, Fast, Pray, Read and Do “IT” (Part III)

Jesua paved the waydesert

So far in our Journey through the forty days of Lent, we talked about Ash Wednesday and how important it is to know who God is and who we are. God is our Creator and we are created by Him (See Genesis 1:1-27 and 3:19; Job 30:19an 42:6; Ecclesiastes 12:7). Also, it is important to God that our broken relationship with Him when sin entered the world, and into our hearts, be restored. God wants us to become His children and have fellowship with Him for all eternity (See Genesis 3; Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:23). God wants us to talk with Him and think and use our minds and our hearts. When we do, He will show us the way back. God says to us: “Come now, let us reason together…Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be has wool” (Isaiah 1:18). God Himself provided the perfect sacrifice to cleanse us from all our sins through the crucifixion of His One and Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

cardinals

(How many hearts do you see in this picture made by three berries?)

“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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:16-17).

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

“Thanks be to God for His Indescribable Gift [Jesus]!” (II Corinthians 9:15).

Jesus' Baptism

“Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You [Father God] did not desire, but a body You prepared for Me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased. Then I said, ‘“Here I am – it is written in the scroll – I have come to do Your will, O God”’…And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this…‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’ And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin” (Hebrews 10:5-7, 10, 15a, 17b-18).

confession

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have One who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the world…How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is who we are!” I John 2:1-2 and 3:1a).

Jesua, heart, sandbelieve god's love 2

People who call themselves “Christians,” are followers of Christ and have accepted God’s free gift of salvation through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. Christ’s followers have “agreed” with God that they are sinners and have turned away from their sin and now desire to live God’s way: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the NEW has come!” (II Corinthians 5:17). Because of Christ, we are forgiven, we are made new, and we are finally free to become the people we are meant to be – people who “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself”” (Luke 10:27). Not only that, but Christians go a step further by obeying a new way to love given to them by Christ: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-34).

robin and nest

“Lent” means “Spring,” when life begins anew. The Lenten Season is a very special and important time when Christians have the opportunity to do some “Spring Cleaning.” It is forty days long, which makes me think of Jesus’ temptation in desert (Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13). The number “40” is used many times in the Bible – Forty is the number of years the Israelites wandered in the desert (Numbers 32:13) and forty days was the time period between Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension(Acts 1:3), just to name a few (information from my church‘s Ash Wednesday Service). As for me, I could use more than forty days as a time for self-examination, self discipline, soul-searching, repentance and a time to strengthen my love and faith in the Lord. However, God does not want us to remain in the desert forever. God wants us to use what He teaches us during Lent and make it our way of life and be a real witness [example] of God’s love in a world that desperately needs Him. We are to be like Jesus. After His forty days in the desert, Jesus began His ministry.
christ in desertimagesCAPBEZO8

In Part II, we talked about the discipline of fasting during the Lenten Season. Whether we fast for a whole day or one meal or from sweets, we can carry over this discipline into a way of life by eating less and eating more simply and nutritiously to honor God with what we eat and don‘t eat. Whether we fast from food or TV or time on the computer playing games, we can use that time to pray and/or read the Bible. We can also use that time to give a friend a call or send an encouraging email or use “snail-mail” to send a note on a card. If we are saving money by what we have given up, we can add it to our church offering or give it to missions or someone in need. Whatever we do, big or small, when we do it in Jesus Name, without fanfare, and for the love of our brother or sister or neighbor, God is pleased. Whatever it is that God is calling us individually to do, we should not wait, but do IT. (See Colossians 3:17).

glasses on Bible

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4).

“As He looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth,’ He said, ‘this poor widow has put more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on’” (Luke 21:1-4).

marathon race

In Part II, we also talked about prayer being a two-way conversation. Many times, we need to quiet our hearts and minds and just spend time listening and waiting for God to direct our prayer. So many of us live our lives going one hundred miles a minute, from one activity to the next, and this includes people who are retired. In all of the things that take up our time, how many of them do we really need to do? Are we filling our calendars because we are afraid of having “free time” because it will cause us to stop and think and re-evaluate how we spend our time? God tells us to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a).

photo (4)

(This is a photo of one of my living room walls.)

Every now and then I read “the handwriting on [my] walls” [phrase attributed to Daniel 5]. I have plaques all over my house, with writings from the Scriptures and other writings from Christian poets and writers. I thought one of my plaques I have hanging near my front door would help us quiet our hearts and minds before the Lord.

Slow Me Down, Lord
(By Wilferd A. Peterson)

Slow me down, Lord.
Ease the pounding of my heart by the
quieting of my mind.
Steady my hurried pace with a vision of
the eternal reach of time.
Give me, amid the confusion of the day, the
calmness of the everlasting hills.
Break the tensions of my nerves and
muscles with the soothing music of the
singing streams that live in my memory.
Help me know the magical, restoring
power of sleep.
Teach me the art of taking minute
vacations – of slowing down to look at a
flower, to chat with a friend, to pat a dog, to
read a few lines from a good book.
Slow me down, Lord, and inspire me to
send my roots deep into the soil of life’s enduring
values that I may grow toward the stars
of my greater destiny.

praying hands

Finally, in Part II, I talked about an anachronism I use to give an order to how a pray. The anachronism uses the letters C. A. S. T. The “signature verse” for this way ordering prayer is I Peter 5:7: “CAST all your anxiety on Him [Christ] because He cares about you.”

C = Confession: I already gave several examples of Prayers of Confession, in Part II, so I won’t repeat them. I do want to give a few points of caution though: 1. If you are quietly waiting for God to speak to you and you “hear” words of condemnation and accusation and someone saying, “Why are we talking about this AGAIN for? You’ll never get your act together!” or something along those lines, this is not God speaking. This is the devil speaking. Satan is “the father of lies” (John 8:44) and “the accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10). We do not have to listen to him. 2. When we confess to God, it is not out of fear of punishment. We do not have to do penance. When we confess our sins to God, we are agreeing with Him that we are sinners and need His help to change. He tells us that we have already been forgiven and that He will help us to change by the power of the Holy Spirit. When God speaks to us about our sin, we feel His joy because we are set free from all guilt and shame (See Isaiah 1:18 and Hebrew 10 on the first page of this post).

Jesus HugimagesCA1A2FRP

“.Therefore, there is now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of Life set me FREE from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sin nature, God did by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit…What, then, shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His Own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God Who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, Who died – more than that, Who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:1-4, 31-35, 37-30).

Since the beginning of the Lenten Season, this hymn has been running through my mind (Some people do not like the music, but I believe the words are so soothing and profound.):

How God Sees Ussunshine

O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus
By Samuel Trevor Francis

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, Vast unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean In its fullness over me,
Underneath me, all around me, Is the current of Thy love;
Leading onward, leading homeward To my glorious rest above.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, Spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, Changeth never, nevermore;
How He watches o’er His loved ones, Died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, Watcheth over them from the throne.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, Love of every love the best;
‘Tis an ocean vast of blessing, ‘Tis a haven sweet of rest,
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ‘Tis a heav’n of heav’ns to me;
And It lifts me up to glory, For it lifts me up to Thee. Amen.

Deeply Loved By Jesus,

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Lydia (and All of You Too!)

Think, Fast, Pray, Read and Do “IT” (Part I)

robin and nest

“Lent” means “Spring.” The Lenten Season is a time of faith. By faith we wait in great expectation for spring to arrive soon. By faith we prepare our minds and hearts to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. By faith we grow in our relationship with Christ and with our brothers and sisters in Christ and get ready for Christ’s glorious Second Coming. The Lenten Season is all about FAITH:

“Now FAITH is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see…And without FAITH it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:1, 6).

liturgical calendar

The Lenten Season is set aside and marked on the Christian Liturgical Calendar as a time to “earnestly seek Him” and make every effort to grow in our faith in God, grow more in love with Christ and deepen our love for one another and love “as [Jesus has] loved [us]” (John 13:34). As my church bulletin stated, Lent is a time of “self-examination, self-discipline, a season of soul-searching and repentance, and a time to strengthen our love and FAITH in the Lord Jesus Christ. The following are Spiritual Disciplines used to engage our minds, bodies and souls in our journey through Lent:

cardinals

THINK: God invites us to use our minds and dialogue with Him and do some Spring Cleaning: “’Come now, let us reason together’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). God wants us to look at our sins and be honest with ourselves and with Him and He will wipe away all our sins just as He promises. God wants us to renew our minds. The Apostle Paul explains it this way: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the RENEWING OF YOUR MIND. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1-2). God wants to help us to be all that we can be by choosing His way over the sinful ways of the world. When we agree with God and “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

christ in desert

THINK FAST (Think About Fasting): Some people cannot participate in a complete fast (not eating anything for a day or days) because of health concerns (diabetes, medications that have to be taken with food, etc.), but everyone can fast from a favorite food, sweets, a favorite drink, etc. Just don’t replace what you are fasting from with something better or equal in deliciousness (Lobster or mac and cheese instead of steak or burgers). The purpose of fasting is to do something else during mealtime, such as pray and read the Bible or listen to Christian music or teachings. Those who are eating less expensive food can give the money saved to a worthy charity or to their church. If they are able to spend less time eating, they can also use the time sending encouraging emails or sending uplifting notes by “snail-mail“. Some can fast from TV or computer time for the same reasons. Whatever you choose to give up in a fast, Jesus teaches us how to fast:

complainingimagesCAOPY28H

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Heavenly Father, Who is unseen; and your Father, Who sees all will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).

A very wise brother in Christ, who worships in an Eastern Orthodox church, recently sent me an email concerning fasting. With his permission I will share his email with all of you:

“Fasting from foods is intended as a spiritual preparation for an experience of deeper communion with God. Each person is a unity of body and soul. A right spiritual diet and a discipline of fasting go together and strengthen each other. Just as prayer benefits not only the soul but also the body so also fasting from foods benefits not only the body but also the soul. Fasting and prayer make us more sensitive to God’s personal presence. At important times of their lives the Prophets fasted and prayed. So did Jesus, the Apostles, Saints and Church Fathers.

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Fasting must be undertaken willingly and not by compulsion. God doesn’t need our fasting. We don’t fast as a kind of personal punishment for our sins. We cannot pay God back for sins but we can only confess them to Him to receive forgiveness. Fasting with a willing spirit and not with just an attitude of fulfilling a religious obligation means that we keep the purposes of fasting always before us which is to develop self control and to remember God and His Kingdom. That way we fast not only in what we eat but also in how much we eat. Fasting is simplicity of eating. We leave the table not with loaded stomachs. Being a little hungry during the day becomes a constant reminder of God, of our dependence on Him, and of the fact that the Lord alone can give us ‘food that lasts for eternal life’ (Jn 6:27). In fasting and prayer, He reveals Himself to us as our true food and drink.”

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In the same way fasting and “being a little hungry becomes a constant reminder of God, of our dependence on Him, and the fact that the Lord alone can give us ‘food for eternal life’ (John 6:27); I wonder if we who are disabled can use our disability, and all the pain and discomfort and grief (belittling and denial of our dignity) that comes with being disabled and all that is taken away from us, can be used as a reminder of Jesus; of our complete dependence on Him, and how Jesus willingly endured the cross for us, with all the pain and suffering and agony and shame; a reminder of the fact that Jesus alone has made it possible for us to exchange our ailing, failing, imperfect bodies for imperishable, immortal, perfect ones!

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“My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty Rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge…One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that You, O God, are strong, and that You O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done” (Psalm 62:7-8, 11-12).

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“…in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear bothers [and sisters], stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:52-58)

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My prayer during this Lenten Season is to have a deeper understanding of what Jesus did on the cross for me and what is awaiting me on “the other side.“ This will help me to realize that everything I am going through on this side of Heaven will be all worth it! What about you? What is your prayer for this Holy Season of Lent? 

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18)

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“O God, you are my God, Earnestly I Seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your Power and Your glory. Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You. I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your Name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied with The richest of foods; With singing lips my mouth will praise You. On my bed I remember You; I think of You through the watches of the night. Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your Wings.” (Psalm 63:1-6).

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“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our FAITH, Who for the joy before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him Who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”
(Hebrews 12:2-3).

“The Joy of the Lord is My Strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10)

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Lydia

When is it Good to Give Up?

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One of the best and shortest speeches Winston Churchill ever gave is oftentimes misquoted. It is known as the “Never Give Up” speech. He delivered it to the students of Harrow School, where he had attended as a youth. In reality, he never said, “Never give up.” After Churchill listened to the traditional songs he had once sung as a boy, Churchill gave this short speech when he was Prime Minister of Great Britain, in October of 1941, during WWII:

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

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What is the difference between “giving up” and “giving in”? This is a very good time to ponder and meditate on this question, in anticipation of next Wednesday being Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the forty days of Lent, which is found in the Christian Liturgical Calendar and is observed by the followers who love their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Before Ash Wednesday, there is “Fat Tuesday,” which is not in the Christian Liturgical Calendar. “Fat Tuesday” is best known for the Mardi Gras, in New Orleans, when everyone has this big parade and party all day and night and they “give in” to the sensual pleasures of “eating and drinking, and making merry, for tomorrow they will have to “give up” something good for Lent” (Ecclesiastes 8:15, Psalm 19:14, I Corinthians 15:32).

DOUGHNUT POLISH

The Polish people celebrate “Fat Tuesday” by eating sweets, especially PACZKI, a Polish doughnut filled with red raspberry, lemon, strawberry, prune, blueberry, apple, custard or other fillings and often covered in powdered sugar. There is a PACZKI game where someone throws these delectable pastries at someone who is a moving target. The object of the game is to hit the moving target in the face as many times as possible. I know that I would rather eat these once-a-year treats, rather than be throwing them at someone. I am of Polish descent, but somehow I have never eaten a PACZKI, which is quite unusual for a person with gourmet taste. So, in the name of “blog research,” I purchased some PACZKI filled with red raspberry and apple jelly and custard. (Since I had a hardy lunch, I haven’t tried one yet, but I’ll let you know how they tasted next time.).dinner lobstahdinner scallops

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With all kidding aside, this idea of partying and over-indulging in food and drink and other earthly pleasures, before Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Season begins, is an extremely distorted view of what the most important time period in the Christian Liturgical Calendar is all about. When Lent finally arrives, some Christians “give up” things without really having to “give up” things. I grew up in a church where “giving up” meat was the thing to do. Some would “give up” meat on Fridays. Others would not eat meat on Wednesdays and Fridays. The only problem was, the same people who “abstained” from meat went out to eat at seafood restaurants. Instead of steak, they ate lobster or scallops. Instead of a hamburger and fries, they had a fish sandwich and fries. For those who gave up decadent deserts, they only had ice cream without the hot fudge and whipped cream and jimmies and cherries.

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The real purpose of Ash Wednesday is to remember where we came from and where we are going. We are reminded that we are the creatures and God is our Creator. Some churches have Ash Wednesday services where the pastor uses ashes to make a cross on the forehead of everyone who attends. My former pastor used the ashes made from last Palm Sunday’s palms (I though that was a cool idea). When the ashes are placed on the forehead, some pastors say, “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust…” This phrase comes from Ecclesiastes 12:6-7: “Remember [God] – before the silver cord is severed, before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God Who gave it.” Psalm 103:13-14 teaches, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.” Lamentations 3:21-26 are verses that both encourage and exhort us: “Yet, this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.’ The LORD is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; it is good to quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.”

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In the current church I have attended since the age of eighteen, the church bulletin says this about the special Ash Wednesday Service: “Wednesday, March 5 is the traditional start of Lent in the church – a time of self-examination and self-discipline, a season of soul-searching and repentance for strengthening our love and faith in the Lord. Join us for this special service to begin the journey into Lent.”

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Lent is a journey that is meant for Christians to take each year, prior to Easter (Resurrection) Sundy, in order for us to grow closer to our Creator, Savior, and Friend. The “forty days” of Lent is in honor of when Jesus was tempted by the devil for forty days in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). After fasting for forty days and nights, Matthew tells us that Jesus “was hungry” (v. 2). What an understatement! And what a perfect time for the devil to tempt Jesus with bread. The devil always waits for the perfect time, when we are the most vulnerable, to kick us when we are already down. This is what he did to Jesus. But, Jesus did not “give in” to the devil’s temptations. Instead, Jesus “gave up” His desire for bread and gave His Father total control, by using the very words of God. Jesus answered the devil by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” When the devil tried to persuade Jesus to throw Himself off the highest point of the temple, he also used God’s Word (Psalm 91:11-2), Again,Jesus did not “give in” to the desire to put the devil in his place and demonstrate His Father‘s love for Him. Jesus knew His Father would not let Him fall. Instead, He “gave up” His own control and did what His Father wanted Him to do. Jesus answered, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (v. 7 and Deuteronomy 6:16). Finally, the devil tempted Jesus by saying if He worshiped him, he would immediately give Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” (vv.8-9). Instead of “giving into” and experiencing immediate gratification and bypassing His suffering and death on the cross and having to wait until His Second Coming, Jesus “gave up” His will in order to do His Father’s will and live among sinners and , not only that, die for them. Jesus said, “Away from Me, Satan! For it is written: ’Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only (v. 10 and Isaiah 9:1-2).

Jesus in the Garden

Luke 4:1-13 also records Jesus’ temptations by the devil in the desert. Luke 4:13 gives us a hint as to how the devil operates: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time.” This tells me to always be on the lookout for Satan and his lies, especially after having a victory over him. I believe Satan tried many times to stop Jesus from doing His Father’s will. We see Satan using an “opportune time” most vividly in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus is anguishing over going to the cross (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46). Matthew tells us that Jesus prayed the same prayer three times to His Heavenly Father (26:44) and each time Jesus “gave up” His will to do His Father’s will: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup to be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will” (v.39b). Jesus did not “give in” to His wanting there to be another way other than the cup of crucifixion. Instead, Jesus “gave up” His will for His Father’s will. And by doing His Father’s will, we who love Jesus are saved through His Perfect Sacrifice for our sins, “because by one sacrifice He [Jesus] made perfect forever those who are being made holy“ (Hebrews 10:14). During the Lenten Season, Jesus calls us to realize His holiness in a deeper and deeper way.

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Jim Van Yperen, President of Metanoia Ministries, says that the opposite of “FAITH” is not “UNBELIEF“, but “CONTROL.” I agree with this statement. When we “give up” our control and not “give in” to wanting to control our own lives, we are putting our faith in God. We are “LETTING GO AND LETTING GOD…” to do what? We are LETTING GO AND LETTING GOD be in control of our lives by obeying Him and LETTING HIM accomplish His will for our lives.

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So, how do we “give up” things during the Lenten Season? The answer is not eating seafood instead of meat. Why do we “give up” things in the first place? I think the answer can be found in the principle behind Ephesians 4:28: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” When we “give up” something for Lent, we need to put something else in its place that will be honoring to God and will help us grow closer to Him. For example, some people fast for a day or for a meal. Perhaps, the time spent in eating can be spent in reading the Bible and praying. If someone gives up buying Dunkin Donuts coffee, the money saved can go towards the church offering, along with one’s regular giving. If someone wants to give up watching TV, it’s not a good idea to just sit there and look at the blank screen. Instead, you can go visit someone in need or listen to a sermon on CD or read a Christian book or take a walk and talk to the Lord or listen to what He has to say to you. Ask the Lord what He wants you to “give up” in your life in order to be more like Jesus.

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I asked this question to the Lord, and He used my pastor to answer me. In the beginning of last December, during the Advent Season, our pastor challenged all of us to stop gossiping and grumbling. I knew this was an area in my life I needed to “give up” to the Lord.

In the Book of Matthew, Jesus said this to the Pharisees, the religious hypocrites/bigots of the day, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings out evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give an account of every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:34-37). Paul says in Philippians 2:14-16a, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life.” James, Jesus’ brother, says in his letter, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (James 3:9-10).

God Sees Us as

I know that I gossip. I know that I grumble and complain and utter thoughtless and useless words that drip with negativity and display a judgmental attitude toward others. These words are not honoring to God and I am giving them up to God; asking Him to take over the control of the words that come out of my mouth. During this Lenten Season, I will be sharing what God is doing in this area in my life with all of you. In the meantime, whenever I “give into” the temptation to speak thoughtlessly, I stop and pray, “O Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Praise God! He answers this prayer each time, “Yes daughter, I do have mercy on you because My Son died for you and you are now my child and I love you.”

Jesus Hugdad and baby

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Peace,

Lydia