Lent: a invitation to renewal, refreshing and refocus

Lent 2017

Today marks the beginning of Lent.

Christians throughout the world observe Lent. Catholic, Orthodox, and many Protestants all have traditions and practices to observe Lent. 

I know Lent may seem odd to non-believers.

What is Lent?

Simply put, Lent is a 40 day period in anticipation of Easter when Christians voluntarily make sacrifices and strive to live simply so that our lives better reflect Jesus.

It’s an opportunity for Christians to grow in their relationship with God and deepen our commitment to Him. Jesus is our guide and we are simply imitating His teachings and practices.

I haven’t always participated in Lent.

I have a marginal Catholic background. When I was a kid Lent seemed all about ashes and fasting and avoiding sweets. I am not knocking my Catholic heritage. I am just saying I missed the point of the season. I missed the spirit of Lent.

For many years as an atheist/agnostic I didn’t want anything to do with Lent.

But since my conversion, I look forward to this season.

What I do during Lent

During Lent,  I will sacrifice and simplify so that my life better reflects and aligns with the life ofJesus. You see, I am making a real commitment to following Jesus and know that millions of my brothers and sisters all over the world are doing the same gives me a sense of solidarity and fellowship.

For me, Lent is all about renewal, refreshing and refocusing. It’s an opportunity to hit the pause button and reconsider how I am living my life, who I am living my life for, and how my priorities align with the life and teaching of Jesus.

There is no one ‘right way’ to do Lent. But there are practices that help draw me closer to God. I will NOT do them to ‘earn favor with God.’  I aim to practice these disciplines to ensure I am, what Dallas Willard says, enjoying:

Full  participation in the life of God’s Kingdom and in the vivid companionship of Christ comes to us only through appropriate exercise in the disciplines for life in the Spirit. (The Spirit of the Disciplines, )

Discipline is not a bad word. Through solitude, fasting, prayer and service (among others) I can draw closer to the ‘vivid companionship’ with Christ that Willard describes.

Questions to grow deeper with God

In addition to my disciplines,  I will ask questions about my relationship with God in the hope that they will help focus me once again on Him. I’ll journal and meditate over these questions during the 40 days trusting they will help me renew.

I share them with you in hopes they might also draw you closer to God.

  • Are the priorities of my life focused on Jesus?
  • Am I resting in Jesus?
  • Am I willing to live simply and sacrificially as Jesus lived? If not, why?
  • Have I repented of sin and idols that hold me back from a thriving relationship with God?
  • Do I love God with all my mind, heart, soul and strength? If not, what’s holding me back?
  • Who is God calling me to serve? What am I going to do about it?
  • Am I celebrating God?
  • Am I connecting with others in meaningful ways?
  • Am I advocating for peace and justice?
  • Am I aware of the widows, orphans and aliens in my community?
  • Am I being generous towards the Jesus mission with my time and talents?
  • Where is pride holding me back?
  • What is God calling me to give away?
  • What will it look like for me to open my otherwise clenched fists to God so he can bless me?
  • How is God calling me to participate more fully in His mission and in His church?

Lent will end with Good Friday and then the celebrations of celebrations: the resurrection of Jesus – Easter.

Every year I emerge from Lent refreshed, renewed and refocused.  I can’t imagine my life without it.

So I invite you to join me this Lenten season in discipline and reflection. I know God will draw closer to you as you do.

Ready for this journey? Then get involved with a local church. If you’re looking for a church to attend during this season, I invite you to join us at Community or any of our NewThing churches around the world.

how to measure your day, Whitfield style

How do you measure your day?

I’ve been inspired by George Whitfield’s daily review.  Whitfield was an evangelist who kept a spiritual journal to help him grow in Godliness. He asked himself these questions at the end of each day and wrote them in his journal. Continue reading “how to measure your day, Whitfield style”

50 Things You Can Do to Keep the Focus

You would agree, one should always try to keep the focus on the main things in life; to not get too distracted by what the world says is important. If you’re a Jesus follower, God and people are our focus.

Yet all of us get distracted or lured away from this focus. It happens for seasons and then we realize we’re far away from who we want to be and numb to what God is doing in our lives. We find we’re too busy for the people. We become tired and overwhelmed and sense that things are out or rhythm.

Several months ago, I emerged from such a season. I had lost my focus. I became distracted. I became tired and overwhelmed. No matter how hard I tried, I felt I was always behind. I was running in a million different directions and felt I wasn’t accomplishing anything.

I hit the pause button during a one-day retreat. I realized that day my actions weren’t aligned with my behaviors.

I created this list to help me get back on track. It’s helped.

Reviewing it, I see it’s a menagerie of personal aphorisms, reminders and practical ideas.

Perhaps one or two of these things might help…

  1. Less is ALWAYS better.
  2. Spend focused and intentional time reading the Bible.
  3. Meditate on one verse everyday.
  4. Pray. (You knew this though.)
  5. Spend more time each of your children.
  6. Schedule time with people on your calendar.
  7. Don’t buy things you don’t need.
  8. You control your attitude. Choose to be positive. Choose to see it through God’s eyes.
  9. Trust people more.
  10. CHOOSE to worry less; trust God more.
  11. Keep running. Running is sacred space. (Insert your favorite activity here.)
  12. Embrace your flaws and imperfections.
  13. You can control your thoughts.
  14. Don’t try to control things you can’t. Let God have it.
  15. Don’t over-schedule yourself.
  16. Pray more.
  17. Make time to journal.
  18. Set aside the mobile device. It’s not as important as you think.
  19. Sabbath once a week.
  20. Let go of false expectations for myself; for others
  21. Don’t procrastinate when you know what needs to be done.
  22. Be grateful. Seriously just be more grateful.
  23. Be generous. Seriously, just be more generous.
  24. Understand the difference between needs and wants when it comes to stuff.
  25. Notice the little things all around you…they matter.
  26. Laugh more.
  27. Talk to people from other cultures and ask them to tell you their stories.
  28. Have more fun. (Schedule it if you must.)
  29. Spend more time with family and friends
  30. Be comfortable with being
  31. Take more naps
  32. Listen to more live music
  33. Get rid of cable – it’s distracting.
  34. Give stuff away that you don’t need.
  35. Stop trying to accomplish all of your goals; identify the ones you can achieve.
  36. Control your calendar – make time for the important things first.
  37. Read more books, especially classics.
  38. Go for more walks.
  39. Visit an art gallery.
  40. Take up a new hobby.
  41. Write more thank you notes.
  42. Plan less and play more.
  43. Realize you have limitations.
  44. Be part of a small group.
  45. Mentor someone younger.
  46. Meet older people and find ways to connect with them…or serve them.
  47. Learn to be comfortable with silence. This is how you’ll hear from God.
  48. Encourage one person a day
  49. Never complain
  50. Thank the people around you for being in your life.

To be sure, this list is not exhaustive. I’ve missed much. But when it comes to keeping my focus on God and people, they’ve helped.

What would you add? What would you take away? How do you keep your focus on what’s important?

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Why I am Reading Less of the Bible This Year

I am reading less of my Bible this year.

Let me explain.

It’s a new year and that means more resolutions. I like resolutions. The older I’ve grown the wiser I’ve become. I only make resolutions I might actually keep I know, that seems obvious, but it’s taken me time to figure it out.  Bibleotnt

Like many Christians I make reading through the Bible a new year resolution. I make this resolution even though reading the Bible isn’t a challenge for me. I love reading the Bible and try to make it the center of my life. 

But I have tended to make reading the Bible a project versus actually reading it to hear from God.

I tend to ‘study’ the Bible. I plow through the texts without reflecting on their significance in my life. I neglect my private devotional readings and instead read the Bible in order to teach or instruct on it. if you’re a church planter or pastor-teacher you know what talking about. At the end of last year, I realized that I was making the Bible into a project to be studied and prodded and finished, rather than treating it for what it is—the most important thing in my life.

So one of my new resolutions this year was to spend time reflecting on the Bible. Even if that meant reading less of it.

I looked for a reading plan to help me meet my goal. The plan needed to help me read systematically through the Bible AND give me plenty of time to do it.

This wasn’t so easy. See, I also bore easily. Not of the Bible–just the reading plans. I usually make it a month or so, grow bored and chuck the plan. Then feeling the pressure, I start reading the Bible straight through. This has happened several times over the past couple of years.

So I invested some time in December thinking, praying and looking for a plan to read less of the Bible and actually spend more time mediating on what I read…a plan I would stick with.

After much research, I decided that the best plan for me was to ‘hear’ the Bible, rather than read it.

I am on day 17 of reading along with the Daily Audio Bible. The Daily Audio Bible follows the One Year Bible Reading Plan that Tyndale (I believe) originally published. The plan provides daily readings in the Old and New Testament, the Psalms and Proverbs. It takes about 15 minutes for me to listen to the narrator (Brian Hardin) and then another 15 minutes or so meditating on the text.

After 17 days of hearing the Bible, I am embarrassed to admit that I’ve been missing out. I mean I know my Bible because it’s what I am basing my life on. It’s just that with a ‘limited’ amount of text each day and hearing the words…well it’s quite wonderful. I am hearing from God in new ways. It’s literally changing my life—again. headphones

Here are some things I do to ensure I attend to my readings:

  • I usually make space for reading in the early AM before ANYTHING else.
  • I listen to the App on my iPhone with headphones.
  • I have a hardcopy of the One Year Bible that I read while hearing it.
  • I keep my journal open nearby and write down questions, reflections or the things that I think God is saying to me.

Look, I ain’t no saint.

I am just saying that if I am going to profess to follow Jesus then I need to carve space into my day to hear from God and be disciplined about it. And there is no better means of hearing from God than through his Word, even if that means I read less of it to spend more time reflecting on it.

What about you? Are you reading through the Bible this year? What’s that look like? 

Have you struggled to read for life versus read for study?

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How to Find Your Lonely Place

Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:16).

Jesus had to physically get away from people so he could be alone with God. Lonely was the place away from people where he could be with God. We would be wise to follow His example. lonely place

So let me ask you: Where is your lonely place? Where is the place you go to pray? Where is the place you can be alone and really get to a place where you can hear from God?

Now before you answer take a moment and really think about it. Lots of stuff can go wrong when we don’t spend time with God. Maybe some of the stuff you’re feeling and experiencing today is because you haven’t been alone with God. The truth is, you need God’s direction on some important things and you don’t have it.

  • How to stop feeling so overwhelmed.
  • That big decision you keep putting off because you just don’t have clarity around it.
  • That conversations with a leader that you keep avoiding because you don’t know what to say.

Finding our lonely place to be with God is essential if we are going to remain on mission. Because let’s just be honest, planting churches, starting missional communities and catalyzing movements requires we hear from God–everyday! Otherwise, we’re just making it up.

To be the leader God is calling you to be, you’re going to need to withdraw to lonely places. You’re going to need to make time with God a priority.

And don’t mistake this: getting alone with God is not the same thing as resting. I imagine that Jesus was at his most attentive when he spent time with the Father. Lonely time with God is about being utterly and completely focused on the Father. Resting is another spiritual activity.

Getting to a lonely place with God might sound easier than it’s going to be. 

Chances are if you’re a church planter, you’re more extroverted. You like people. You like being around others. Relationships are important to you. So getting away with God will seem hard–a chore even.

That’s why you need to pace yourself. For example, you might ind that lonely place and stay there for 5 minutes a day. Then the next week add another minute. You get the point.

Here are 5 ‘lonely places’ that you might go to:

  • Your closet.
  • Your backyard early in the morning or late at night when no one is around.
  • A local park.
  • A nearby forest preserve or nature sanctuary.
  • A beach.

There are lots of  ‘lonely places’ to be with God. You just need to find them and go to them. Don’t worry, He’ll be there.

What about you? Where are the lonely places in your community? What is most challenging about going to your lonely place? Please post a comment and let us know.

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