Category Archives: Prayer

What is Lent?

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Lent is the 40 day journey (excluding Sundays) set aside in the church calendar in preparation for Easter. The time spent during this period is to be devoted to prayer, repentance, and self -reflection of one’s life. Although not every church or denomination observes Lent, many Christians choose to observe this season as a way to keep their focus and shift their thoughts on the forthcoming death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Lent is not specifically mentioned in scriptures and therefore is not a command or requirement.

The rules for fasting during the Lent season vary from denomination and geographical location. Generally, those who fast during the Lent season, fast six days a week over the course of six weeks. Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent and was instituted to bring the exact number of fasting days before Easter to 40. The types of food and drink people fast from also vary but generally include meat, animal products, and soda. In some religions, the fasting modifications have relaxed drastically to make the process more simple and easy. Today though, Christians are still encouraged to give up something for Lent as a form of self-denial.

Another, less popular, Lent tradition is to limit your meals to just one per day. Traditionally, this meal would be eaten in the evening or at 3pm and should be void of meats and dairy. The absence of dairy products led to the tradition of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (also known as Fat Tuesday) and the blessing of the Easter eggs. The Lent practices for fasting have evolved overtime to allow for additional meals for strength as well as eating fish, other meats, and dairy.

Does the number 40 sound familiar? The number 40 holds special significance for Christians. Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai in preparation to receive the 10 Commandments (Exodus 34:28). Elijah walked 40 days and 40 nights before the Lord appeared to him on the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:8). And the most importantly, Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness fasting while continually being tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:2). Ash Wednesday also symbolizes the beginning of Jesus’ 40 day fasting and prayer while in the wilderness.

The choice to observe Lent should be a personal decision. When deciding what to give up for Lent, do so with a grateful and humble heart. Don’t give up something that doesn’t take effort or act like a Pharisee and look for loopholes in the guidelines. Fasting without the desire to renew your relationship with Christ is a form of blasphemy. Whether you fast from something small, give up your meals during the day, or add something to your schedule during this season, the effects of atonement and self-discipline will astound you and your relationship with our Savior will forever be changed.

While the fasting practices have changed over the years, the intent for the Lent season has remained the same – to repent of your personal sins, to renew your faith and commitment to the Church, and to prepare your heart for the return of Jesus Christ. How do you strengthen your relationship with Christ during the Lent season?

Here are some great ways for your family to celebrate Lent together:

  • Begin a Lenten devotional that accommodates the whole family.
  • Read your Bible and be intentional about memorizing scriptures.
  • Simplify your schedules and eliminate luxuries.
  • Serve others with the hope of sharing Christ.
  • Replace urges with time spent in prayer.
  • Walk humbly and keep your focus on Jesus.  Don’t publicize your Lent practices and bring the attention on yourself.  This time is about reflection on Christ, not your personal accomplishments.

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What is Ash Wednesday?

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ash wednesdayAsh Wednesday celebrates the beginning of the Lent season, the 40 day period leading up to Easter Sunday. This day is celebrated on the seventh Wednesday leading up to Easter and follows Shrove Tuesday (also known as Fat Tuesday).   This season is meant to spend time reflecting on your personal life and penance for your sins.  The 40 day Lenten journey leads us to the ultimate redemption through Jesus Christ’s resurrection and atonement for all of man’s sins.

The Ash Wednesday ceremony, originally called dies cerinum which means the day of ashes, dates back to the 8th century.  But the season of “repentance” dates back to biblical times.  In Leviticus 16:34, the Lord established an annual day of repentance for the Israelites saying, “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”  In the old tradition, those offenders who had committed grievous sins would come before the priest wearing sackcloth.  Wearing rough material or animal hair was meant to show an outward demonstration of an inward sorrow and shame.  The priest would then sprinkle ashes on their head and bless them.  They were expected to spend the next 40 days in penance and reconciliation and would return to the priest on Maundy Thursday for their first communion following their repentance.

Christians today have been blessed with the blood of Jesus Christ who made the greatest atonement for our sins.  However, many Christians continue the tradition with a time of fasting and prayer.  We spend this time of year bringing our hearts back in accordance with the will of God and giving thanks for the atonement made by Jesus Christ.

During an Ash Wednesday observance service, the cross is marked in ashes to the forehead of each church member to signify an inward repentance.  This process is meant to humble our hearts and remind us of the sacrifices made for our eternal life with Christ.  The service brings our focus back to the mission of the Church and the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf.  It is encouraged to spend time reflecting on the last year of your life and giving a greater commitment to God and the Church.

The ashes are a symbol of man’s mortality and remind us that life is not guaranteed. Ecclesiastes 12:7 tells us, “And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”   Traditionally, the ashes used in an Ash Wednesday ceremony come from burning the palm branches used in the Easter service the previous year.  The ashes are blessed with holy water and rest with burning incense to create a pleasant scent until the next Ash Wednesday service. 

Because Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent are not specifically mentioned in the Bible, Christians are free to observe this time as they desire.  The most popular method for celebration is fasting, or giving something up that would be difficult during the Lent season.  Others add an activity such as a daily devotional.  Both are great methods that lead you constantly back to the Lord, reminding us of our need for repentance and the need for our Savior.  Any activity chosen during this season is meaningless if not done with the intent for spiritual renewal and repentance.

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A Jesus Lovers New Year’s Resolution

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newyear2It’s the end of another year and the majority of us are eagerly awaiting the chance for new beginnings and blessings.  We certainly never look at the new year as a time for added stress, pain, or sickness.  In our anticipation and hope of new things to come, we tend to make new year’s resolution – to lose weight, cut out caffeine, go to the gym, work less, sleep more, find a new job, etc.

The question I ask of you as we close out 2013…. What does Jesus want from you?  He very well may be calling you to cut calories, lose weight, and exercise.  He may be tugging at your heart to work less and be at home with your family more.  But what does He want from your heart?  How can your life glorify His name in this coming year?  What changes does God want from you that will ultimately lead you to a closer relationship to Jesus Christ?

Here is a list of New Year’s resolutions all Christians need to work on in 2014:

Forgive more – As a forgiven sinner, you are required to forgive sinners.  Let go of other people’s mistakes and shortcomings, even if those decisions directly affected your life.  Satan will remind you of the pain others have inflicted on you but YOU are a forgiven sinner and are called to forgive the sins of others.  Remind yourself that you have not always been a Christian and that you too have hurt others.  We have all fallen short and we will all fail again.  Pray for those who have hurt you, that they are blessed by God and that those blessings change their lives.  “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32

Pray always – It’s so simple to say “pray more” but the thought of praying all the time can seem very daunting.  Rest assured, if you miss an opportunity to pray, you must not give up!  Begin by praying every morning or evening and slowly add in other specific times in your day devoted to prayer.  You will soon notice how your prayers shift from specified times to daily conversations with God throughout your day.  Make sure you also add a few minutes of reflection time to listen to what God says to you about your prayers.  “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Quit worrying – We begin to worry when we feel as if we are not in control.  The truth is, very seldom do we have full control over anything.    When we allow worry to seep into our lives, we are saying to those around us that we are helpless and have no one to turn to.  But as Christians, we must have faith in God and faith in His plan.  Find the good in every situation and be thankful for what God has already blessed you with.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

Give more – Give more of your time, your money, and your effort.  Pray about this specifically and see where God wants you to give.  Does he want you to give more of your money to your church or a mission?  Does He want you to give more of your time and volunteer efforts?  Does He simply want you to give your family more quality time?  Whatever it is that He leads you to give, give wholeheartedly and give as if you are giving to the Lord.  “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7

Go to church – Attending church should not be a Sunday morning visit when times are hard.  Church is a time for weekly reflection and an energy boost.  It’s a time for us to put aside the craziness of life and refocus on Christ and His will for our lives.  Church is a time for Christians to fellowship with other believers and together build the kingdom of God.  “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Learn more – Read your Bible this year, start a devotional, or commit to reading that book your spouse has asked you to read.  If you’ve already read the Bible in its entirety, read it again to gain more knowledge.  You cannot go wrong opening your Bible and reading scripture!  But there is power when reading with other Christians and discussing life together.  “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Proverbs 18:15

Judge less – Learn how to judge righteously and ask God to show you when you’re sinfully judging.  Practice the art of judging the sin and not the sinner.  Find the good in every person and in every situation, even if it’s simply acknowledging that God will use that situation for His glory.  Remember that we have all sinned and fallen short in the eyes of God.  We will all stand on even ground before God one day; your sin is no less than any other man’s.  “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” John 7:24

Be more gracious – Again, find the good in every person and in every situation.  Treat others with kindness and respect.  Even if we don’t think they deserve it, they really do.  Don’t assume the worst in others, even if their track record shows otherwise.  Give people the benefit of the doubt, always.  Complement those who frustrate you, and add a smile.  Work on changing your heart towards others and people will begin to seem far less threatening to you.  “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Plant seeds – Write down a list of people who are non-believers and commit to praying for them over this next year.  Make it your goal to talk to them about Jesus Christ and his unending love for them.  Invite them to church, offer to pray for them, connect with them regularly and allow them the opportunity to see how Christ is working in your own life.  The outcome is amazing to see how God uses YOU and your everyday circumstances to change the lives of others.  You plant the seed and watch as God grows new believers.  “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Go on a mission – Your mission trip doesn’t necessarily need to be across the world to a third world country.  While that is definitely an incredible experience, your mission field can be right here in your hometown.  Your mission field is the path you drive to work and the places you run your errands.  To be on a mission for Christ is to tell others of Christ and bringing His Good News to non-believers.  Begin by asking strangers, “Do you know that Jesus loves you?”  Spend time everyday preparing for your mission work and ask God to show you where your work needs to be done.  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28: 19-20

To put our focus on Christ rather than ourselves is ultimately what God wants for our lives.  He wants us to depend on Him.  When we do these things, our lives begin to take on a new meaning and good things begin to happen.  We will still suffer loss and heartache, setbacks and pain.  But life becomes bearable when we walk with our Savior and allow Him to lead the way.

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Should Christians Shop on Thanksgiving Day?

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thanksDoes anyone else have a growing concern about our gradually fading Thanksgiving holiday?  Is anyone else offended that stores nationwide have already announced their Christmas shopping ads and broadcasted their earlier-than-ever Thanksgiving DAY opening times?  What was once a full day completely focused on giving thanks, relaxing, and spending time with family has now become just another day for holiday shopping.  I can only imagine this holiday will soon begin to feel like any other day as we put our selfish wants in front of the need to set aside time for rest and give thanks.

While Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday, it is still a national holiday set aside for giving thanks.  This is the most perfect opportunity for Christians to stand up for what is simply “right”.  We are commanded to give thanks daily as written in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” There is no better opportunity for Christians to be bold and claim this ONE day a year when our entire nation sets aside to give thanks in all circumstances.  I believe it is our duty to continue this worldly tradition, if nothing else just the simple opportunity to show others the importance of being thankful in all circumstances.

What would be the negative effects if Christians surrendered to the early holiday shopping hours and disregarded a day of thanks and rest?  We would be those shoppers who told the world we care more about great holiday deals than we do about spending time with family.  We would be the shoppers who took employees away from their families and made them spend the day on their feet dealing with crowds and selfish people.  We would be the Christian shoppers who missed an opportunity to be Christ in this world by simply ignoring a national holiday for giving thanks.

So what should Christians do about the early store hours and the growing desire to skip Thanksgiving and shop all day?  Is it wrong to take advantage of some good deals?  What if we are spending time with family WHILE shopping?  What’s so bad about feasting with family, taking a long nap, and hitting the stores before midnight?

This is a question that only you can answer and it needs to be based on the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  Does God really want you to honor this day by spending time with family?  Do you have a problem making time for family and need someone to make you take a day of rest?  Do you NEED this day to reflect on the past year?  How often do you truly give thanks in all circumstances?  Would Christians really make a difference if we all held tight to the tradition of setting aside just one day for Thanksgiving?

I believe the Thanksgiving holiday is a gift.  It’s a gift to our family – a paid holiday, a day we see family we may not always make time for, a day when we reflect on the previous year and give thanks to God for all things (including the happy times as well as the not-so-happy times), and a gift of just one day devoted to good food and rest.  A gift to be appreciated from our Father, as started in James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above”.

Why would we not want to take advantage of this great holiday?  Why do we want to tell the world that shopping is more important than a holiday?  Would we be okay if our employers took this paid holiday away and made us take vacation days since we aren’t using the day as a time to give thanks, the very intention of the holiday?  What would Christians think if shopping hours and great holiday deals took over Christmas day?  Would we regret allowing Thanksgiving Day to slip through our fingers?

Spend time in prayer and ask God what He wants from you.  Ask Him how he wants you to spend your Thanksgiving holiday.

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Overcoming Envy and Jealousy

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JealousyEnvy means “to bear a grudge toward someone due to coveting what that person has or enjoys.” In a milder sense, it means “the longing for something someone else has without any ill will intended toward that person.”  Envy is the emotion when you want something that someone else has.

Jealousy means “being apprehensive or vengeful out of fear of being replaced by someone else.” It can also mean “watchful, anxiously suspicious, or zealous,” or “expecting complete devotion.” The last is normally applied to God.  Jealousy is the emotion when you fear something or someone might be taken away from you.

Envy, if left unchecked, can easily fuel a fire to jealousy.   Jealousy, if left unchecked, will lead to fear and fear can be absolutely debilitating.  Fear alone is bad enough but when it is heaped with coals of envy and jealousy you will soon see other negative emotions and actions follow.

Negative human emotions often times arise from fear and we are commanded as believers to “fear no evil” many times throughout the Bible.  If we are fearful of another person, we do become hostile towards them, whether in our thoughts or our actions.  Jealousy of another person is the state of believing they have something more and fearing they will become more advantageous.

2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  The Bible is very clear that we have not been given a spirit of fear.  Fear is a sinful emotion and is not of God.

Because we are all sinners and as humans we are full of emotion, we have all faced fear.  As Christians, we can release that fear to God and focus on scripture and positive thinking.  We must put our focus on the love of Christ and know His uplifting and gentle words that drive out fear and jealousy.  Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sister, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

We must triumph over envy, jealousy, and the many other negative emotions that we face!  God did not promise an easy life, but He did promise to never leave us or forsake us in Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.”  Why do we fear and become jealous of others when we only need to be pleasing in the eyes of God?   When we allow negative emotions to control us, we are inadvertently telling God that what He has provided for us, where He has placed us, and what He has planned for us is not enough.  We have told our Creator that He is wrong and I promise you, God is NEVER wrong!  We need to put our focus on satisfying and becoming delightful in the eyes of our Creator, not another person.

How do we overcome these sinful emotions?

Confess your negative thoughts, feelings and fears to God.  It is true, God already knows our feelings but confessing them brings forth your acknowledgment.  God wants to help you; we just need to ask Him!

Be thankful for your blessings and gifts.   God created you in His own image and has blessed you according to His plan.  We must be thankful for all we have and praise Him for everything.

Put your faith into action.  Matthew 8:26 reads, “Why are you fearful, you of little faith?”  What do you have to fear?  Carry your shield of faith and be pleasing to God, not man.  Faith will take your from jealousy to contentment, allow God’s words to lift you up.

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” James 3:16.  You don’t really want disorder and evil to rule your life.  Take your jealousy into your hands and cast them away.  Ask God to replace these with love, His love… for perfect love casts out evil, 1 John 4:8b.

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No Other Gods

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It isn’t by mistake that God begins the 10 Commandments with the command to have no other Gods before Him and to not make idols in any form of any kind.  But what is an idol?  An idol is ANYTHING the heart wanders to for comfort.  We turn to our idols when we are missing Christ in our life.  And we all struggle with idolatry!  Our idols can be bad things that need to be completely removed from our lives or even be GOOD things that we use in excess that keep our hearts from focusing on God.  Ask yourself these questions….

What vies for your attention?
What is your greatest fear?
Where do you run for comfort in troubling times?
What do you complain about the most?
What causes you to be angry with God?
What do you want more than anything else in life?
Does your idol take away your time with God?

God knows the tendencies of the human heart to wander and He wants NOTHING to compete for His spiritual attention.  The Bible tells us in 2 Kings 17:15, “They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.”   Do we really want to become worthless?  Do we want to be viewed as worthless in the eyes of God?  God sees past our current knowledge and desires; He knows what’s best for us.  Things that direct our hearts toward God  is where we should be putting our focus.  Idols keep our hearts from God and will never satisfy our desires.

We must cast away our idols and rely fully on God for our redemption, our salvation, and our comfort.   We must fully rely on God to satisfy our every need.  Flee from idolatry!  Flee to God!  Confess your idols and replace them with Christ.  Bad things (alcohol, pornography) need to be destroyed and removed from your life.  Good things (cell phone, clothes) need to be handed back to God and used according to His purpose.

Remember, every act we commit is redemptive when we turn to God.  Our relationship with Jesus Christ will fill EVERY need or desire we have in life.

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Awake Our Souls

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Then He said to me,

Prophesy to these bones and say to them,
Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!
This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones,
I will make breath enter you,
And you will come to life.
So I prophesied as I was commanded.
As I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound,
And the bones came together, bone to bone.
And I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them,
And skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
Then He said to me,
Prophesy to the breath,
Prophesy, son of man, and say to it,
Conjure the four winds of breath and breathe.
Awake my Soul — Chris Tomlin/Lecrae

The shootings. Guns. Abortions. Hatred. Murders. Sin. The lies. Drugs. Homelessness. Lack of God. Sickness. Fear.

This is America, where freedom rings. We have so much to be thankful for. We have everything here, yet when you watch the news and read the Facebook statuses, it’s all poor me, help me, SIN, fear, it’s a fallen world. People seem to care more about what the next trends are and the biggest and best gun to be bought before Obama bans them. We don’t see people in America.  We see ourselves, we want the American dream with the cars, the house, the perfect children. We want it all…

I don’t like America. I want to like America, I want to like the white people, I really do. I keep hearing the Lord say “GRACE, baby girl, love them, teach them”…. I don’t know how to extend grace to people who have everything and yet when they look at their lives they see nothing. I want America to WAKE UP. We have SO much here, so much that we should be a living example of heaven! If we  only cared as much about our children’s education and as we did about Obama banning guns or better yet, if we cared about our relationship with the Lord, America would be such a different place!

America is not dead, we have a fighting chance here, we have hope. We have more churches on every corner then we even know what to do with. Can you imagine America if we all stopped and just prayed? Really think about it.  If we all came together and worshiped our Lord, sat at his feet and tossed our crowns down… AH! what a glorious moment that would be! America can conquer sin.  I mean shoot, Jesus did the hard part people!  If we would just stop for Him and do what He is asking, if we would stop for each other and see the best in people, if we chose to love, if we lived and breathed His words that He put on this earth so you and I could live this world for HIM!

As I sit here in tears, I need to choose to love America. I can not throw it away and just move to Africa. I am just as much called here as I’m called to Africa. I need to choose grace on His people, I need to love the unlovable, I need to choose to love His people who do not yet know the love of the Lord. If I can have hope for a place where Jesus is not even known, I can and WILL love America.

— JESUS, help me. Help us. Come down this week and lavish your precious love on America. Wake your people up God. Encounter them so they have no choice but to bow at your feet. We owe you everything God, you deserve America to look up at you in love. Help our unbelief, you make ALL things work for your good, ALL things. Help me learn how to love your people here, to love them like you. I believe America will one day be yours again, not just pieces of it, but all of it. This is my cry God… To see this place be yours, to love your people, to show grace when you ask me to! Forgive us Father for not turning to you. We need you. We love you. We want you here! I love you papa, thank you God for saving me!
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IMG_9083edit copyBreanne is a missionary in Kenya, Africa and blogs her adventures at I African Love You.  She lives in Bella House working with children coming out of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.