Finding Focus — in Lent

Lent is a time for soul transformation. As we remember Christ's love and sacrifice He changes us.

I’m on a quest to find more focus in my life. To zero in on the important and to ignore the rest.

To help me in this quest I am going to observe the holy Lenten season. Lent is the period of forty days leading up to Easter (Sundays are not included in the count.) It is a period of focusing on Christ and His enormous sacrifice and boundless love for us. During this time we can abandon the frivolous and concentrate on the eternal. It can be a season of transformation as we pull our chair closer to hear God’s words to us.

Three tools I am going to use to concentrate on the spiritual during this time are:

Fasting. The whole idea of forty days of Lent may have been inspired by Jesus’ forty-day fast before He began His earthly ministry. But please don’t try this at home. Fasting as a spiritual discipline can have life-changing effects, but forty days is extreme. Try fasting one day a week during this season of Lent. Or give up a favorite food or activity for forty days. In the past I have abstained from chocolate, ice cream, TV watching and shopping. When I do this kind of focused fast I am reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice every time I deny myself a simple pleasure.

Bible study. Lean in to hear God speak by spending more time in His Word during the next forty days. There are many ways to do this. My Bible studies Soul SpaDivine Design and Bless These Lips are designed to be completed in 40 days. This year I am leading a journey through practicing Spiritual Disciplines. My daughter and her husband have written a family Lenten devotional. Author Margaret Feinberg is inviting people to join her in reading the book of John this Lent.

I have been praying about how God would like me to spend time in His Word these 40 days. Continuing with my 2015 theme of focus, I have decided to concentrate on one book of the Bible. Philippians seems the perfect book as it talks about Christ’s sacrifice and becoming more like Him. I am going to prayerfully read this book every day of Lent asking God to change me through His Word.

Focus on Christ. Fasting and Bible study can become merely rituals of Lent. If we’re not concentrating on Christ, they are only outward habits that will not transform our souls. But if I recall Jesus’ sacrifice when I turn down that piece of three-layer chocolate cake, my heart can be content with God’s presence. If I listen for the Holy Spirit’s voice as I read the Word, He can satisfy my soul.

Jesus is ready to bless you with joy, love, and transforming grace. Receive His blessings. Look for Him in the ordinary moments of this Lenten season. Hear His voice speak His care for you in His Word.

Psalm 278

Question: How will you observe the Lenten season?

God’s Love Letter to You

God's love letter to you. Click here to discover His relentless love.

The Bible isn’t always an easy book to read. At times it seems like a long list of dos and don’ts. Sometimes it reads like a rather dry history book. Some parts read like a racy novel. Other chapters seem like an action movie with plenty of violence.

So when you hear that God’s Word is His love letter to you, you might raise an eyebrow or stifle a laugh.

But it’s true. All the way through God’s Word He has woven His theme of love.  Take a look at the book of 1 Kings which is full of tales of unfaithful rulers and tyrants. Even there in 1 Kings 8:23 we find:

O God, God of Israel, there is no God like you in the skies above or on the earth below who unswervingly keeps covenant with his servants and relentlessly loves them as they sincerely live in obedience to your way.

There is no God like ours who relentlessly loves.

Who continually treasures us.

Who constantly pursues our hearts.

Take a minute and let that settle into your heart.

Breathe in and allow that truth to seep into your soul.

God relentlessly loves you. He will never stop. There is nothing you can do that will change His constant, persistent, unchanging, unyielding, unfailing love. You can mess up and He will be there with arms open. You can fall down and Jesus will gently pick you up. You can be too busy to notice the Father’s loving care, but even then He will be there right beside you ready to hold your hand.

This week in your Bible reading, look for reminders of the Savior’s love. Read God’s love letter to you and find evidence of His care in every book in the Bible.

Our God relentlessly loves.

relentlessly loves

Question: How does contemplating God’s relentless love change your day?

Remember This: 7 Practical Tips for Scripture Memory

Deut 11-18

Scripture memory.

Some of you love it. You can recite dozens of verses by memory. You faithfully hide God’s Word in your heart.

Some of you struggle with it. It reminds you of learning required verses for Sunday School or VBS, earning a gold star, but not remembering the verse the next day.

In my last post I talked about how memorizing God’s Word is not just an intellectual exercise, but an exercise of the heart. We store God’s Word inside of us because it reminds us of His love for us. We hide God’s Word in our hearts because it transforms our souls.

But memorizing anything can be hard. And so today I am giving 7 tips to help you to memorize Scripture.

  1. Choose verses that are meaningful to you. If a verse speaks to your heart, you will be much more likely to remember it. You will pull it out of your memory banks often when you need encouragement or peace.
  2. Write the verse on a card that you post by your computer or sink. Review it while you are waiting for the computer to boot up or while you are washing dishes.
  3. Say the verse out loud. Seeing and hearing the verse will help you fuse it to your memory. When you speak the words it helps your mind to store them securely.
  4. Memorize phrase by phrase. Read one phrase then try to say it without looking.
  5. Memorize the reference. Say the reference before and after the verse so you can also remember where to find your favorite Scriptures.
  6. Review, review, review. Keep a file of verses you have memorized and review them periodically.
  7. Recite the verse or verses you are memorizing while you are walking, doing chores, or like me–when you are trying to go to sleep.

As you fix God’s words in your minds and hearts, you will discover a transformation of your thinking, a confidence of God’s love for you, and lasting peace in your heart.

Question: Do you have any Scripture memory tips you want to share?

 

 

Remember This: Why God Wants us to Fix Scripture in Hearts

Deut 11-18

I am a keeper of memories.

I try not to save a lot of “stuff.” I regularly purge my clothes, shoes, and books.

But the stuff of memories I hang onto. We have scads of scrapbooks. Dozens of pictures albums. Thousands of digital pictures on our computers.

Because I want to remember. I want to recall the impish look on my son’s face when he pushed an ice cream cone on my nose at his first birthday party. I want to see again my daughter’s lopsided smile when she was missing a front tooth.

It turns out that God wants us to remember too. He wants us to remember His words to us. Deuteronomy 11:18 says:

“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds.”

Perhaps when you think of Scripture memory you think of your days in Sunday School or VBS. You diligently memorized the required verses so you could get a gold star or a cool prize. But probably as soon as Sunday School or VBS was over, you promptly forgot those Scriptures.

I know that’s what happened to me. I think it was because I fixed the words in my mind, but not in my heart.

God does not want us to memorize His Word as an intellectual exercise only. Yes, any kind of memorization requires concentration and repetition. But if we are only memorizing the words and not the message the words won’t go deep into our souls.

Memorization of Scripture is an exercise of the heart. God wants us to remember His Words for the same reason I want to save pictures–out of love.

Through His Word, God tells us over and over again of His love for us. And when we store those words in our hearts, we can pull them up anytime we are discouraged, frustrated, hurt, ridiculed, or even downright depressed.

As we fix God’s Word in our minds and our hearts it changes us. The words weave into the fiber of our souls and transform our attitudes and emotions. The words refashion our purpose and our will.

Lately, I have found Scripture memory to be especially useful when I can’t sleep at night. Somehow when I lay my head on my pillow, I immediately think of all the stupid things I did that day. Or my anxiety about getting everything done resurfaces. Even after I have prayed, confessed, and turned over my worries to God, my mind will run over the concerns like a hamster on an exercise wheel.

But recently I have started using the verses I have memorized as my new hamster wheel. I get off the wheel of regret and worry and hop on the wheel of God’s Word.

Here are a few of the verses that have been especially helpful:

  • “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.” Psalm 32:10b
  • “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” 1 John 4:16
  • “Grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Ephesians 3:18b

As I run over these verses again and again, God gives me peace, contentment,…and sleep.

God wants you to fix Scripture in your mind and heart not as an intellectual exercise but as exercise of love.

 

Remember God’s Word’s of love!

Gods mirror 3For even more encouraging verses, download this picture/poster with verses on how God sees you!

How to Run When You Can Barely Walk

psalm 119-32

 Don’t you love watching little kids run?

I mean they don’t run because they really need to up their fitness program.

They don’t run because they are trying to get their 10,000 steps a day in a shorter span of time.

They don’t run because they are trying to burn a few extra calories.

Little kids run because they want to. They run out of joy. They run because energy literally bubbles out of them.

I’ve been reading Psalm 119. Every day I read a stanza–meditating on it, savoring it.

The other day I got to verse 32 and stopped.

“I run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free.” (Psalm 119:32 NIV 1989)

Immediately I pictured a little kid whose just been sitting in school all morning running out of the door out of sheer joy of being outside.

He runs because he is free.

What I found especially interesting is that just four verses earlier in the psalm, the writer says, “My soul is weary with sorrow” (verse 28). It sounds like he could barely walk because of sadness. How was it that he could now run?

I think the psalmist could run because he went to a reliable source of strength–God’s Word. He says:

“Strengthen me according to your law” (verse 28). Lord I know that Your Word is where I’m going to find the energy and the hope to keep going.

“I hold fast to your statutes, O Lord” (verse 31). Even though things look desperate, I’m clinging to Your promises.

“I run in the path of your commands” (verse 32). I‘m sticking to Your path, following the signposts in Your law.

So when you can barely walk look to God’s Word. Ask Him to give you hope and strength from Scripture. Cling to His promises.

Because when we look to God’s Word and listen to His voice, He sets our hearts free. That word “free” is from the Hebrew word rachab  which means “to grow wide or large.” Some other versions use the phrase “enlarge my heart.” As God widens our hearts so that we can better understand His promises to us and more fully grasp His love, we no longer feel like we are plodding through life.

We are running on the path He has set out for us. Running out of joy.

Question: How do you feel today: plodding on a path of sorrow or running full of joy?

 

 

original photo credit

Three Gifts I Received From My Mother

three giftsMother’s Day is coming.

We are all browsing at Hallmark stores and clicking on FTD.com. We’re looking for the perfect gift for the woman who gave us life.

All this gift shopping made me remember that my mother gave me even more than life. She gave me priceless gifts in the forms of lessons for life.

Here are three important lessons I learned from my mother:

1. Be a friend. My mom has more friends than anyone I know. And it’s because she is a good friend. She is there to listen to a friend’s sorrows. She helps out with meals when friends are ill. She never forgets a birthday and celebrates with delicious homemade cakes and festive parties.

How can you be a friend today? Celebrate your best friend’s good news. Listen to a breaking heart. Send a card of encouragement.

2. Be there. During my growing up years mom was always there. She greeted us when we came home from school with fresh baked bread. She helped lead my Brownie troop. She attended every piano recital, choir concert, and school play.

How can you be there for your friends or family today? Go to your son’s baseball game even though you have to take a half-day of work off. Meet a friend for coffee. Really listen to your husband talk about work.

3. Be in the Word. When I was in my teens, my mother gave me a Living Bible. This gift changed my life. I began reading God’s Word every night. The modern paraphrase helped me hear God’s voice and ever since I have loved to study Scripture.

How can you be in the Word today? Start by reading an encouraging psalm in a translation you don’t normally use. Try Psalm 62 in the Amplified Version.

Thank you Mom for your important gifts!

Question: What important gifts did your mother give you?

What Will You Sacrifice?

eph 5-2

Lent is a time of sacrifice. I didn’t always see it that way. But in recent years I have tried to make some small sacrifice.

After all, Jesus gave up His cushy life in heaven to experience pain, weariness, hunger pangs, and mosquitoes. He willingly endured pain, rejection, and even death because He loved me. He sacrificed His life.

So during the 40 days of Lent I have made a point of giving up something to remind me of His sacrifice.

One year we gave up television. One year I gave up all sweets. Because that proved very difficult–the next year I gave up just chocolate.

Last year I added something–I added more Scripture reading. In fact, I read through the whole Bible during Lent. I was inspired by one of my favorite authors–Margaret Feinberg–who challenged her blog readers to read with her. It was quite the Scripture marathon!

This year she is modifying the Bible reading program a bit. She has developed a 40 Day New Testament Reading Guide  and invited anyone willing to join her in this Lenten Challenge. I’ve decided I’m in!

Yes, reading these extra chapters will require that I give up some of my time. But I’m excited to reread Christ’s life journey on earth during the season we remember His death.

Reading His words will draw me closer to Him during this sacred time.

Reading about His sacrifices will help me to appreciate what He did for me.

Reading about His acts of love will help me to love Him and others more.

How about you? Will you join me in reading the New Testament during Lent?

Question: What will you sacrifice during Lent?

New Beginnings: For When You’re Not Sure You Want New and a Free Bible Study

Is 43-19

This post is an excerpt from a new free downloadable Bible study I wrote. To find out how to get the rest of the Bible study see the end of the post.

When my husband and I moved to Illinois, we lived in a fifty-year-old home that was full of problems. The basement leaked. The windows were painted shut and the well-water turned my laundry orange. I couldn’t wait to get out of that old house. I wanted something new.

After several years of waiting, God gave us the opportunity to build a brand new home. We bought a piece of land and hired a builder. To keep costs down, we did a lot of the work ourselves.

At the time our children were ages five and two. During the five months of construction they spent a lot of time at the babysitter’s house, but we tried to get them involved with the building process by giving them tours of the house at various stages of construction, getting them involved in small clean-up projects, and letting them pick out the paint for their new rooms.

As the house neared completion, we were all excited about moving in—or at least most of us were. One day I took the kids to the house for one last clean-up before the carpet installers arrived. We were sweeping the plain brown sub-floor of my son’s room when he piped up in his two-year-old voice, “Let’s not pretend that this is my room anymore.”

My son didn’t want to move. The new room was an empty space with a rough wooden floor. To him it didn’t look as appealing as his old room with soft carpeting and a comfortable bed. He didn’t want the new because he couldn’t envision the finished project.

Sometimes I act the same way with God. He’s continually transforming me into a new person. But sometimes I resist because I can’t see what that will look like.

God asks me,

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:19a

Honestly, I can’t always see God’s new thing. When troubles seem to block my view of my Savior, I can’t see God working.

That’s when I need to remember what comes next in Isaiah 43:19:

I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

When God is starting something new in my life it’s to show me a way out of the desert I’m in and provide springs of water in the wilderness. His new thing is always good–even though I might not see it right away.

Once my son saw the finished room in the new house he was as excited about moving as the rest of us. The original problem was, at first, the new didn’t look as good as the old.

When we’re facing something new we need to remember that God is always working to make our lives better–even if that new thing still looks like an empty room with a plywood floor.

Question: What new thing is God working in your life right now?

Click here to get the rest of the free one-session Bible study:

A New Thing

Scripture Memory: Verses to Get You Out of An Emotional Basement

ScriptureMemory

Over the years I have memorized (and forgotten) dozens of Bible verses.

I love God’s Word–a healthy dose of it is what gets me through each day.

But memorizing? I’ve not been very consistent in committing Scripture to heart. Somehow it’s been like every other diet I’ve been on. I’m faithful for awhile and then let it drop.

Lately though, I’ve realized that having Scripture in my head and heart make a big difference in my outlook on life. Without regular review of God’s words to me, my mood is more dependent on my circumstances, I’m more susceptible to negative attacks from the enemy, and my prayer life suffers.

So at the beginning of this new year, I’m picking up a habit I never should have dropped. I making an effort to store God’s word in my heart.

I encourage you to do the same. Start with one verse. Write it on a sticky note. Post it where you will see it often. Read it out loud every day and then try to say it without looking at the note. By the end of the week you will have one verse memorized.

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Don’t know where to begin? Here are some of my favorite verses that speak of God’s love for me. These are the verses that consistently pull me out of any emotional basement I’ve been in:

  • All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you. (Song of Songs 4:7 NIV 1984)
  • The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love. (Psalm 147:11 NIV 1984)
  • As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5 ESV)
  • The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17 ESV)
  • How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1 NIV 1984)

I have heard it said that when we memorize Scripture we are giving the Holy Spirit the opportunity to speak to us in His language. When we store God’s Word in our minds, He can easily bring them to mind when we need them.

Question: What Scripture verse gets you out of your emotional basements?

 

 

How to Repair Your Soul

HowToRepairYourSoul

My daughter and her family live in China. They have been studying the difficult Mandarin language for almost three years and are quite fluent now. Which amazes me because when we visit them I am astounded at how anyone could learn such a beautiful, yet complex, language.

Recently I was reading about the phrase ling xiu. In Chinese characters the phrase looks like this:

 

灵修

 

and together they mean a Christian’s devotional time. I found it interesting that the two characters have different meanings when they are used separately. Ling means “spirit” or “soul.” Xiu means “to repair.” So fitting don’t you think? Our devotional time with God is our spirit repair time!

 

quiet time

Spirit repair.

How desperately I need this every day. The world shreds my soul. Stress tears at the seams. Worry tries to rip my heart apart. And when I try to mend it on my own, the rips just become bigger.

But when I sit in God’s presence and let His Word stitch me back up again, I feel whole. When His Spirit mends the holes my soul is once again intact.

Sometimes we think of our devotional time as duty or a dusty routine. But what if we saw it as our spirit repair time?

The new year is a time of new beginnings.

Take time to practice ling xiu or spirit repair time every day. God is waiting to heal your heart.

 

Question: How do you daily practice “spirit repair”?