Sunday, February 7, 2016

Lent: Ash Wednesday—An Invitation to Draw Near to God

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
-James 4:8

The Christian life is a pilgrimage. Over many miles and many years we walk with God, learning to know him and trust him more deeply as we go through beautiful fields as well as rough terrain. Our spiritual life is a long race, not a short sprint.

In that pilgrimage, that race, we all lose momentum at times. Life becomes busy; we come down with the flu for several weeks; difficulties at home and work drain our energy and emotions. Sometimes we drift, veering off the path we began as we are lured by worldly pursuits, pride, possessions and misdirected passions.

Lent is a special season set aside to draw nearer to God. For nearly 2000 years, Christians have dedicated the days leading up to Easter to draw close to the Lord. This is a time to reassess our life—spiritually, relationally, directionally. It is also an invitation to refresh our relationship with the Lord and to refocus our lives on him.

Sober Self-Examination
How are you doing on your spiritual pilgrimage right now? Are there ways you have lost momentum in your pursuit of God? Have you become outright sidetracked?

This week Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Attending an Ash Wednesday service is a wonderful place to begin. As ashes are placed on your forehead with the sign of the cross, it is a visual reminder that, as mortal beings, we are but dust (Gen 3:19), and we shall return dust to dust, ashes to ashes. We must keep this in mind as we ask God to look into our hearts and test us (Psalm 139:23-24).

Fasting is also helpful. For nearly 2000 years Christians have fasted during Lent. Fasting is invaluable in self-examination as it helps to reveal where our focus is in life.

Draw Close
Honest self-examination always reveals some area of our actions, attitudes or thoughts that are out of order. Rather than pulling back from God as we see our brokenness or half-heartedness, however, we need to draw near to the One who knows all our faults, yet loves us beyond our wildest comprehension.

Setting aside special times of prayer—perhaps weekly or daily—is a wonderful practice for Lent, as it offers us one-on-one time with the One who loves us so much. Through those times of prayer, we draw closer to, and grow deeper with, our Lord. Likewise, giving to others has been a special focus of Lenten devotion since the early years of the Church. We can give money (alms) or time or service. However we are able to serve, reaching out to others not only draws us closer to them but also to God.

As Ash Wednesday approaches, what is something special you can do over the coming weeks to give the Lord your undivided attention? Where is the best place for you to have intimate time with him—a place where you know you will not be uninterrupted? How can you focus all your attention on him? This Lenten season, let us draw close to God’s loving, healing, transforming presence.

© 2016 Glenn E. Myers

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ordinary Time: Testing Daily Discipleship

Ordinary time tests our faith. Are we following Jesus because we are genuinely committed to him, willing to be faithful through thick and thin, or are we doing so because we want more of the warm inner feelings that we enjoy so much?

January and February can be so bland. There is no green to see, no flowing water (at least in frozen-over Minnesota). Confined to the indoors, life can become dull. This is also the season of the Church Year known as “Ordinary Time.” Lost between the hope and light of Advent/Christmas and the intensity of Lent, leading into Easter, Ordinary Time is just that: ordinary. All combined, this can be a flat time of year for me—physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Ordinary life and Ordinary Time, however, are valuable because they test us. If we have been going to church and practicing daily devotions simply because we like beautiful services, inner comfort or spiritual “high,” our devotion dissipates like the morning fog in the midst of commonplace responsibilities and the commitment of daily discipleship this time of year. We shift our focus to more exciting options than the long-haul of spiritual growth. Although we still want to consider ourselves “good Christians,” our lives have little to do with pursuing Christ.

Yes, Ordinary Time proves what is inside us. If our hearts have shallow roots, anchored only in the special times of life, we dry up during long cold seasons. If, however, we choose to put our roots deep down in ongoing discipleship, we will do well, even when spiritual consolations are few and far between. Then, as the world around us begins to thaw--come Lent, Easter and springtime—we discover that our roots are stronger and deeper than ever in our devotion to the Lord.  

Let us, therefore, take courage during Ordinary Time. As Scripture exhorts us:

“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly
rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have
done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.
For in just a very little while,
‘He who is coming will come and will not delay.’”

     -Hebrews 10:35-37

2016 © Glenn E. Myers

Friday, January 15, 2016

Integrally Connected with God along Life’s Paths

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not trust in your own understanding.
In all your paths know him,
and he will direct your path.”
-Proverbs 3:5-6 (translated from the Hebrew)
How do we know God’s path for our life, or even for our current stretch of the Journey? First of all we have Scripture, God’s Word, guiding us. “Thy word,” cries the Psalmist, “is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (119:105 KJV). God’s Word lays out the principles for living a godly life and walking with our Lord.

“The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous. . . .
By them your servant is warned,
in keeping them there is great reward.”
-Psalm 19:9-11
Second, God gives us more personalized guidance in our lives. Although we might like a set of directions printed out before we begin the journey—like Google Maps offers—the Almighty seldom guides us that way. Rather, he is more relational. The Lord wants us to stay in contact with him. God is more interested in our getting to know him than how quickly we get to a given destination.
Proverbs 3 exhorts us: “In all your paths, know him.” The word for “know” here is Yadah. Although it is often rendered “acknowledge,” that translation does not bring out the full import of the word. Yadah is much more hands-on, much more intimate: it implies personal knowing and experiencing. The same word used for Adam “knowing” Eve, resulting in a child!
Thus we are called in Proverbs 3 to know the Lord personally, be attentive to the Lord, as we walk life’s paths. We are to experience his presence and love and protection. We are to know him personally, talking with him along the way. If we do so, he will indeed “direct our path.” Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven belonged to little children (*). As a little child, each of us can walk hand-in-hand with him along the path.
How can you and I walk on a new level of “knowing” the Lord as we go through this week? Whatever method we might use, I pray that we would Yadah the Lord—know him, experience him, be attentive to him, even walk hand-in-hand with our loving Heavenly Father. As we do so, he will indeed direct our path!

© 2016 Glenn E. Myers

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Advent Preparation: John the Baptist: Luke 3


And the crowds asked him [John the Baptist], “What then should we do?” He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”
-Luke 3:10-14 (NABRE)

John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus by preaching to crowds who came to him in the wilderness to be baptized. He warned them not to think that just because they were descendants of Abraham and Sarah that they would be part of the Kingdom of God, which was being inaugurated. Instead, they needed to repent. People from all walks of life—even tax collectors and soldiers—responded with an earnest question: What do we need to do for genuine repentance?

As we arrive at the third Sunday in Advent, we continue to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus afresh in our lives this Christmas. John the Baptist’s words hit us hard over two millennia after they were first spoken in the Judean desert. If we want to walk in God’s Kingdom—God’s reign in our lives—we cannot glibly say we are part of God’s family—descendants of Abraham, as the Jews assumed in their day. Rather, we need to repent of any action, attitude, or inaction that fails to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and strength, or fails to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27).

“What then should we do?” We likewise need to ask this question afresh for our life situation. Like John’s audience, some of us need to share much more from our abundance with those in need. Some of us need stop bullying others, or taking what is unfair—even if we can get away with it.

As I read the Scriptures this morning, I became convicted when reading Philippians 4:4-5 “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice. Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand” (ASV). Sometimes I get so tired of being forbearing and patient. Especially the last few weeks, there are a few times when I wasn’t forbearing or gentle or kind. What then should I do to repent? I need to heed Paul’s words to rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances, even when yea one more car pushes me on the highway. I need to cultivate a forbearing, gentle, patient spirit for others to see—and even when no one is looking. I need to cling to hope: the Lord is at hand!

As we prepare this Advent, let us listen to John the Baptist’s call to repentance. Let each of us ask the question: What then should I do right now in my life and in my circumstances?

© 2015 Glenn E. Myers

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent Candle

Photo: "AdventnĂ˝ veniec I." by Bubamara. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Light and warmth radiate from the advent candle, illuminating the evergreen ring of the advent wreath. So commences another Advent—a New Beginning!
                These four weeks of preparation are important in our spiritual life. Autumn is always a time of loss—trees lose their beautiful leaves to stand as bare skeletons against the bleak winter sky. Daylight loses hours to darkness, both morning and evening. The warmth of summer and early fall fades to the chill of November and even colder months ahead. The northland loses sight of green grass and sound of bird as it braces for the hard onset of winter. Our hearts remember loved ones we have lost and years that are no more.
                Yet, just as the small flame of a candle cuts through the darkness, Advent breaks into all the losses of our lives. Not simply doomed to an endless cycle of time and seasons, we see the flicker of hope. God is about to break into an ordinary night of shepherds watching their sheep and animals eating hay from a manger.
                As the first Advent candle is lit, so begins the fresh hope of a new church year. So begins our vigil and preparation for the celebration of Christ’s the birth, Immanuel—God with us. He is the “rising sun [who] will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness” (Luke 1:78-79).
                Advent—New Beginning! Light to warm our hearts and illumine our way! Let us enter this season with open hands and a receptive spirit, ready to rest in the glow of the Advent candle, radiating the hope and promise of God come to earth to be with us!

© 2015 Glenn E. Myers

Friday, November 13, 2015

Thanksgiving Abundance

The Lord is good to all;
          he has compassion on all he has made. . . .
The eyes of all look to you,
          and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand
          and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
-Psalm 145: 9,15,16
Surrounded by abundance, I so often only see the one little thing that I lack. Craving for that one-more-thing is part of our fallen human nature. Instead of trusting God, we assume that we need to fend for ourselves. In that self-protective mode, we seek to accumulate and possess. In our grasping to possess, we fail to see how richly the Almighty has provided for us and see only the one thing we want—which we often do not even need.
It is said that someone asked John D. Rockefeller—the wealthiest man alive at the turn of the 20th century—how much money it takes to make one happy. His answer was profound: “Just a little bit more.”
If I am looking to be happy in the natural, it will always take “just a little bit more.” Oblivious to my overflowing storehouse of goods and blessings, I will repeatedly turn to the one thing that I believe I lack. Of course, once I gain it, I simply obsess over the next little bauble as it catches my attention, naively assuming that possessing it will somehow bring me final satisfaction and lasting contentment.
No, the only way to get off this hamster wheel on which I am trapped is to shift my focus from what I lack to what has already been given to me—something the advertisers never want me to do! When I consciously, intentionally redirect my mind and heart toward giving thanks for the innumerable blessings in my life, I begin to see the world with new eyes. Our God has cared for the land and enriched it with plenty. He has crowned the year with bounty and drenched our lives with blessing and abundance.
O, let us give thanks!                                                                                  
2014 © Glenn E. Myers

Friday, November 6, 2015

Wandering with God through the Woods

“Show me your ways, O Lord,
teach me your paths” –Psalm 25.4
A leaf-strewn path leads into the woods. My eyes follow its gentle wandering through the trees until at last it twists out of sight. Where will it lead? What turns will it take or evergreen cove will it uncover? If I follow this path, where will it take me?

Since childhood, I have always loved the woods. I have heard the call of the pathway, inviting me into an adventure. Enchanted by their mystery, I never tire of the beauty of the fields and forests and mountains. Leaf-covered paths still beckon me to come on a journey.

Our spiritual life is indeed a venture into God’s great woods. Filled with new sights, restful streams and challenging climbs, it is a never-ending exploration.Yet, so many Christians today become bored with their faith. They take the path a few hundred feet into the edge of the woods, pitch their tents and never journey any further with the Lord. They say they love Jesus but fail to follow him. Then they silently complain that the Christian life is so dull.

Such a shallow understanding of conversion and the Christian life is tragic. The short section of the path entering the wood is only beginning; it was never meant to be a finishing line. Rather, these first footsteps are but the prelude to the life-long adventure of wandering with God through all he has in store for each of us.

Will you take this path?

© 2015 Glenn E. Myers