Lent and Self Examination

I was raised Catholic and always participated in Lent growing up.  I would give up candy, not eat meat on Fridays etc. While I know longer participate in the ritualistic practices of Lent, I appreciate the idea behind the Catholic Sacrament that takes place during the season. Abstaining from certain pleasures and foods for the purpose of getting closer to God is a biblical practice I often do called fasting & prayer. In the Catholic Sacrament of Lent, they also set aside time for mourning ones sin.  I’m not advocating that part because we don’t need to mourn sin that God has forgiven. If we’ve repented we’re clean (1 John 1:9).

There is Biblical reference for Lent, I do however think the practice of examining our lives and praying with fasting during the days prior to Easter is a good habit to get into.

We are fasting and praying for people to accept God’s gift of salvation this Easter.  Our church is fasting and gathering the Wednesday before Easter to pray together. I cancelled our satellite TV subscription for a while to spend more time reading and praying.  (Extra bonus, the kids are actually playing outside.  No joke, really, it’s true.)

I encourage you to turn of the T.V., skip a meal and pray more between now and Easter.  You may find yourself ‘mourning’ for  someone who hasn’t yet accepted God’s grace or maybe even ‘mourning’ and repenting a sin in your own life you didn’t even know was there.  I know I will.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 25: Enduring Trials

As a person is told they have 30 Days to Live, they face a trial few living today can identify with.  It would be the ultimate testing of one’s faith, facing eternity.  How we endure a trial like this ultimately clears up any questions about whether our faith is real or not.

This Mother’s Day was a difficult one.  It was the first Mother’s Day without my mom (see Facing Forever) and we went to see my mother-in-law who is in the hospital losing her battle with cancer.  What happens to your faith when real trials come?  My mother-in-law, while always having been a religious person, has turned to reading the Bible daily and praying more.  Is she afraid? Sure, but her faith has increased through this trial and she is actually being brought closer to God through it.

My wife and I are asking God for a miracle for her mother, but if one doesn’t come, our faith will not be shaken.  Why? Because we trust in God’s word that when a love one faces 30 Days to Live, the Lord is there.

Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. – Psalm 23:4

Our faith is not real if it cracks in a trial.  Good time faith isn’t really faith at all.  Even death can’t separate real faith from the believer.  Death is just another trial to endure and conquer.

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.  And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and He never tempts anyone else. – James 1:12-14

No one sells books on “patient endurance” and it wouldn’t be a most popular sermon download on YouTube but it’s a key to God’s plan.  When we close our eyes on this planet for a final time, the crown of eternal life is given to those who have endured through their trial and still have faith in Christ in the end.

The last words I ever spoke to my father as he laid dying in a hospital bed were “Keep the faith.” and those are my last words to you today.  Even if the trial you face is death itself, keep the faith.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, help me to remember that no matter what the trial is, you haven’t left me.  Help to remember also that you didn’t send me this trail but you will bring good things out of it, even if the trial is death.  I will patiently endure all hardship because I know you will carry me through it.  I love you.  Amen.

Thoughts

  • Have I lost faith during past trials?
  • If I were to face the death of a loved one would I blame God?

Action

  • Pray this week for those whom you know are in trails that they may not lose faith.

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Written May 2010: prayers for Fran and our family gratefully accepted.

30 Days to Live – Day 24: Reality

Today the reality of 30 Days to Live hit us in a very personal way.  My wife (Pastor Joanne) found out that her mom (Fran) has terminal cancer.  As Joanne sat in the hospital room with her mom and other family members, the doctor told Fran to “get her affairs in order.”  Her response was, “So this is a death sentence.”  It is one thing to be writing about facing your final days on this earth it’s another when death actually is right in front of you with someone you care about.

While we are praying and asking for God to do a miracle, first responsibility is to make sure your loved one is ready for life after death.  Fran has believed in God and has been attended church regularly so there was no need to convince her of her need for God’s forgiveness.  Instead Joanne focused on forgiving others.

The truth is we are all under a death sentence.  Maybe not as brutal and short as the one my mother-in-law just received, but this life is short and we are not promised tomorrow.  We must all “get our affairs in order” to make sure we are ready to meet our Savior.  One place people usually overlook is forgiving those who have hurt you.

As we prepare for the next life we want our sins to be forgiven and if we want to be forgiven for our sins we must forgive others. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray He gave us an example that has become called The Lord’s Prayer.  In it Jesus prays this:

Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. – Matthew 6:12

As Jesus was teaching His disciples to pray effectively He knew that our prayers are useless if we refuse to forgive others.

Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. – Luke 6:37

Why is this such a big deal to God?  Because HE is the Righteous Judge.  If we decide to judge others we are in effect saying we want to sit on God’s throne and do His job.  He has never tolerated that, just ask an angel named Lucifer.

Prayer

Pray this 3 Step Forgiveness Process:

  1. I take back any authority I gave the devil in my life through unforgiveness, especially towards ______ for what they did to me.
  2. I choose to forgive this person for what they did to me.
  3. I ask you God to help me to forgive this person, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thoughts

  • Who has hurt me?
  • Have I chosen to forgiven them?

Action

  • Forgive all the people who have hurt you, now.

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Written May 2010: prayers for Fran and our family gratefully accepted.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional Day 19: Taking a Risk

Taking a Risk

As a person faces death they often regret certain things in their life.  They may regret the hurt they caused a loved one or not spending more time with their family.  Yes, moral failures or relationship failure are regretted but not usually the adventure tried and failed. What do I mean?

You don’t usually hear people say, “I regret trying a new business or trying to make a difference in ministry.”  No, it’s usually the adventure NEVER tried that is a regret.  “Wish a wrote that book.”  “I should have gone back to school so my family would have a better life.”  “I should have tried that business idea.”  “I should have tried to save my marriage.” “I wish I would have done more for God.”  Those are some more common ones.

At the end of their life people regret risks not taken. Often it is the fear of losing something that keeps us from taking risks.  God wants us to trust Him enough to live like that now.  To live like we have nothing to lose. There is story of 4 men in scripture who had nothing to lose, so they took a risk.  They found that God’s blessing often lives on the other side of a risk taken.

In 2 Kings chapter 7 is a story of 4 leprous men.  They have shunned by society because of their contagious skin disease and because they are considered cursed by God, religiously unclean.  (The closest thing we would have in our society today is a homosexual person with full blown AIDS.)

Now there were four men with leprosy sitting at the entrance of the city gates. “Why should we sit here waiting to die?” they asked each other.  “We will starve if we stay here, but with the famine in the city, we will starve if we go back there. So we might as well go out and surrender to the Aramean army. If they let us live, so much the better. But if they kill us, we would have died anyway.”

So at twilight they set out for the camp of the Arameans. But when they came to the edge of the camp, no one was there!  For the Lord had caused the Aramean army to hear the clatter of speeding chariots and the galloping of horses and the sounds of a great army approaching. “The king of Israel has hired the Hittites and Egyptians to attack us!” they cried to one another.  So they panicked and ran into the night, abandoning their tents, horses, donkeys, and everything else, as they fled for their lives. When the lepers arrived at the edge of the camp, they went into one tent after another, eating and drinking wine; and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and hid it. – 2 Kings 7:3-8

As the 4 lepers took a risk to change their situation God intervened for them!  If they had done nothing they would have died where they were wondering why God had never helped them!!

Have you ever wondered why God usually shows up right at the end when we can’t make it?  I don’t think it’s because He likes to make us wait.  I believe most times it’s because we wait until we’re desperate to take a risk and make a move.

When God blesses it usually more than expected.  The lepers were hoping to survive but God gave them more than they could carry.  This abundance caused them to think of others.  (Usually when you’re hurting it’s hard to think of blessing others.)

Be a risk-taker not an excuse-maker.  Risk-takers fail more but they also achieve more.  Noone ever gained ground in a battle by watching from the sidelines.  You have to get in there, fight, bleed and risk it all!

Finally, they said to each other, “This is not right. This is a day of good news, and we aren’t sharing it with anyone! If we wait until morning, some calamity will certainly fall upon us. Come on, let’s go back and tell the people at the palace.” So they went back to the city and told the gatekeepers what had happened.- 2 Kings 7:9-10

The reward to the risk taker is meant to be shared with others.  We are blessed to be a blessing.  Don’t wait until your last 30 Days to take that life-changing risk. Risk takers accomplish more for God and also take others around them to new levels in God, thereby gaining bigger blessings themselves in the process.  To fulfill your destiny on this planet you can’t play it safe.

Prayer

Dear Jesus help me to be a risk-taker not an excuse-maker.  My desire is to fulfill your destiny for me on this planet and I know I can’t do that by playing it Safe.  I give my fear of failure, my insecurity about what others may think of me and yes even the lack of trust I have in you.  Point me in the right direction and I will take a leap of faith knowing you’ll be there to catch me if I fall.

Thoughts

  • When is the last time risked failure to achieve a life goal?
  • When is the last time I took a risk to accomplish something BIG for God.

Action

  • Ask God for a vision that is too big for you to accomplish on your own
  • Take one step towards your impossible dream today.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 17: Dying Young

Hi everyone.  While I’m on the road, Randy Hartwig is filling in with these profound thoughts on dying young.

During Isaiah the prophet’s lifetime, God’s chosen people, Israel, were backsliding. In other words, they were not living for God and were far from Him. Their value system and the things they were concerned about were so messed up that they didn’t care or even ask, “Why?” when good people died before their time.  Here’s the direct quote from the prophet: (Isaiah 57:1)  Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why.

In our culture, when someone good dies “before their time” it can cause a lot of people to struggle and question God. As we consider death in this series we have to ask ourselves, what is my attitude concerning death in this type of  situation? The fact is good people DO die young. Even some godly people die seemingly before their time…..preachers, parents, young children, famous church leaders. What if you find out you will die young or if it happens to someone you love dearly? How will you respond to God

Read the rest of what Isaiah said in this verse! “No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come.” That is really interesting. Does God take people BEFORE their time to protect them from evil? Well, if we believe the Word to be true, that’s exactly what it says. That can shed a whole new perspective on death. It doesn’t necessarily bring instant healing of the grief you feel when you lose someone young or godly, but it sure can give you something positive to focus on. My loved one will NOT suffer the evil that is to come.

In the next verse Isaiah gives this promise: (Isaiah 57:2)  For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die.  The paths we should choose while we live should be those that cause us to act godly – like God. We need to ask ourselves, “If God was in the same situation I am in, what would He do?” Then we determine to do the right thing, the biblical thing, the thing HE would do. The result is godliness and that brings peace.

So as you face death everyday, choose those things that will keep you on the godly path that leads to peace. Death is not something to be feared. It is rest. It is an exit from a world full of evil to an eternity of joy in the physical presence of the Lord.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, I don’t always understand why somethings happen, especially why some people have to die when they’re young.  Help me to give my grief and questions to you.  I choose to trust you even when I don’t understand.

Thoughts for Today

  • Have I ever thought about how death can be a relief from suffering?
  • Do I have questions and grief over the death of a loved one I need to give to the Lord?

Action List

  • Begin to live like I have 30 Days to Live because we are not promised tomorrow.
  • Share Christ with those I care about before it’s too late, even if they are younger.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 10: Why Should I Love?

As a person approaches death, facing their final 30 days, they usually turn towards those they love.  Most people don’t ask to work extra hours, or even take one more trip.  They certainly don’t wish for more TV or screen time.  They ask to see their loved ones.  They even reach out to relatives and friends they haven’t talked to in years.  Dying people try to mend broken relationships with their last breaths. Look at this verse:

Let love be your highest goal! – 1 Corinthians 14:1

As people face their last thirty days it all suddenly becomes crystal clear.  Like the morning sun breaking through a cloud bank, they see for the maybe the first time, what’s most important…LOVE.  Why wait?  If love is the highest goal, the most important thing, we should love now.

Another reason we should we love like we’re dying is because love is one of the few things in this world that actually is eternal.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13

Of these few eternal things, love is the greatest. Faith in the living God will be carried into the next life.  Hope in the eternal bliss of heaven carries us through our last 30 days to live but the one thing we can aspire to that is the greatest is love.  Poets have mused about it, song-writers have sang its praises but how many people truly understand love.  To begin to understand why we should love, we must start by understanding that love is eternal.

Jesus thought it was so important to love that He made it a commandment.

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. – John 15:12

Jesus commands us to give that same kind of unchanging, self-sacrificing love He gave us to others.  We CAN love like Him or He wouldn’t command us to.  He’s not a cruel prankster, giving His followers a command that He won’t give them the ability to carry out.  No.  We can love like Jesus because He lives in us by His Spirit.

Today, love someone the way Christ loved you.  Looking past the sin, their harshness, even their rejection of the gospel to love them.  If you do, you’ll be a little close to Christ then when you started the day.

Prayer:

Lord help me to love as you have loved me, not looking at people’s faults and sins but at their potential.  Father I choose to forgive them for how they have hurt me because you forgave me all the times I’ve hurt you.  Fill me with your love right now that I my love as you do.

Thoughts for Today:

  • Do I show the love of Christ on a daily basis to people I’m around?
  • if love were the only measurement of Christianity would my neighbors know I’m a Christian?

Action List:

  • Do a random act of kindness to someone today to show God’s love.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 9: What Good is Suffering?

God works in every circumstance for those that are His children. We see good or bad but God sees opportunity in either.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose. – Romans 8:28

So, if God works good in everything for those who follow Him, then why do we suffer?  We are never closer to God then when we suffer.  Yes, we may get mad at Him during loss or unjust treatment but ultimately we end up with nowhere else to go.

Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.  – John 6:67-68

When things go bad we realize like at no other time that there is nowhere else to turn but Him.  When it’s really bad, people can’t help.  It has to be God.

If God works good for me in all things what’s the good in this horrible situation?  Well if nothing else we turn to God in a deeper way, and that is important indeed.  See God is more concerned with our character than He is our comfort.  He is more concerned about eternal treasure in heaven than temporary trials here on earth, more concerned about our relationship with Him than our success in this life. He’s not uncaring; He just has a different perspective on our lives than we do.

The words of King David give us hope if we’re in a trial of our own making.  David committed adultery and then murder to cover the affair, yet after that He was called a man after God’s own heart AFTER these sins.  Why because he repented and turned to God. (Read the story yourself in 2 Samuel 12.)

The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. – Psalm 6:9

God heard David’s prayer and accepted them.  If you’re hurting because of your own sin, it’s ok.  God has already forgiven you and is waiting to use even that situation for the good I your life.  Talk to Him about it right now.

Prayer:

Lord help me to not wait until there’s a problem to turn to you but to seek you each day.  When I do fall into trails, help me to remember you are there, and to seek you immediately.  I will not to blame you for my problems or suffering because I know you love me.  I trust you Lord.  I know there’s nothing I can face today that you and I can’t handle together.

Thoughts for Today:

  • Am I serious about my prayer life or do I just call out God when I need Him?
  • Have I been afraid to turn to God for help because I thought He wouldn’t answer?

Action List:

  • Spend time with God today telling Him how you’re hurting and asking Him to help.

Facing Our Fear of Forever

Facing Our Fear of Forever We Find Freedom

I’ve had the privilege of being with many people as they face their last 30 days on this earth.  People facing death receive a new freedom, a “license” to say what they really feel and to do what they really want.  What keeps us from doing that now?  Fear of what people think.

Jesus was free of the need to please people, to gain their approval.  He rebuked the influential pharisees and refused to be intimidated by the powerful authorities in the Roman government.  Jesus knew He would be dying soon and therefore what was there to fear from people?

Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. – Matthew 10:28

What would you do differently if you no longer had to worry about what other people thought?  If you only had one calendar page left to flip? Would you go to a mission field and not worry about having your own home?  Would you tell everyone knew about God’s grace because you now feared facing Him soon more than the rejection of others?  When you suddenly worry not hearing “well done good and faithful servant” nothing else matters.

Facing Our Fear of Forever We Find Faith

“Death is the thing most feared because it appears to be the end of everything.” – Aristotle

The fear of death comes from not knowing what happens when our eyes close for the last time on this earth.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4

When we realize for the Christian that death is but a shadow of something passing that can’t touch us, we gain faith.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25

Do you believe this?  Then live like it.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, trust in the promise of heaven.  Help me today to not fear death nor fear what people think.  Help me today to live like I was dying.

Thoughts for Today

  • Do you fear death? If so why?  Aren’t you sure of heaven?
  • What would you say to someone if you knew you had 30 days to live?

Action List

  • Talk to one person that you’ve been avoiding and be honest.
  • If you’re not sure that you would go to heaven, ask Jesus to forgive you and save you right now.  Give Him your life and surrender control to Him as your Lord.

30 Days of Putting God First

As we are on this 30 day journey, it is my hope that we will learn to put God first in our lives.  When people have 30 days to live, most turn to God…even those that are mad at Him, even those that haven’t talked to Him in years.  It doesn’t matter where you are on your journey with God skeptic or a pastor, we can all grow closer to Him by putting Him first over the next 30 days.

A simple way to do that is to give God the first portion of everything.  Here’s some practical ways to do that:

Give God the First Day of the Week

Long ago Christians decided to gather together on the day the Lord rose from the dead (Sunday) and celebrate.  They also were applying the ‘first fruits’ principle when they set aside the first day of the week for God.

Give God the first day of your week by setting aside Sunday as ‘His day’.  Attend the church of your choice, spend sometime praying or reading, and just think more about Him on Sunday than you normally do.

Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near. – Hebrews 10:24-25

Give God the First Part of Every Day

I know we’re all busy and rushed in the morning.  I know that many of us are not morning people.  If we will give God the first 15 minutes of our day, He will make the rest of the day go smoother.

If you read 15 minutes a day you can read through the whole New Testament in less than a year.  I would suggest reading 10 minutes and praying 5 to start.  This should be doable for anyone. 15 minutes a day, such a wonderfully small sacrifice to understand the love of the Father and the freedom He has given us.

By asking God what His will is the various parts of our lives we involve Him in our day-to-day lives.  If He’s involved, then we have His wisdom, His presence and His blessing.

Remember, Give God…

  • The First Day of Every Week
  • The First Part of Every Day

And you will find your life is more fulfilling, more effective and more meaningful.  In short, you be living more like you’re dying.

Tomorrow’s devotional: Give God…
• The First Portion of My Income
• The First Consideration of Every Decision

Trust is Earned

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. – Proverbs 3:5-6

I have heard people say, “Trust is earned.” or “A person must show themselves to BE trustworthy before I’ll trust them.”  I want to ask a question…Has the Jesus done enough to earn our trust?

King David proclaimed God’s trustworthiness by attaching it to God’s character.

All He does is just and good, and all His commandments are trustworthy. – Psalm 111:7

If God is just and good then all He asks us to do must be just and good.  Therefore, we can trust what He says. The commandments He gives us in scripture are worthy of us trusting and building our lives on.

What are you building your life on?

I want to encourage you today, trust the Lord.  Trust Him with your hopes, your dreams, your future.  Trust Him with you relationships, your career, your present situations.  Trust Him with your past, your hurts, your disappointments,  your failures, your betrayals, your sins.

What part of your life have you not given to Him?

Who is my neighbor?

The Bible has a lot to say about neighbors.  In the Ten Commandments alone we are told:  not testify falsely against your neighbor;  not covet your neighbor’s house; not covet your neighbor’s wife; or their maid or pool boy; or their mode of transportation; or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16-17)

Jesus said, loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself is as important as loving God and the summation of the whole Old Testament law! (Matthew 22:35-40)

What does that mean to us today?  It means that we need to understand how to treat our neighbors right if we want to be right with God.

So, with this being such an important concept in scripture and the teachings of Jesus Himself, it seems reasonable that someone would ask, “Who is my neighbor?”  A Pharisee (a teacher of the Jewish law) asked that question in Luke 10:25-37.  Jesus responded with a story that we call the Good Samaritan.

A Jewish man was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road.  A priest walks buy and does nothing.  A church Deacon (Levite) looks at him but doesn’t help.  Finally a despised Samaritan stops and helps the Jewish man.

The Jews truly despised the half-breed Samaritans, they were unclean to them.  Damned by birth.  It would be like a 1960s African American man stopping to help a Klu Klux Klan man and the Pharisee knew this bigotry.  Jesus asked him a question:

Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?”

The Pharisee couldn’t help but replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus responded, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

His command to us today is the same. Be like the Good Samaritan.  If you are in a position to help someone, do it.  God will put people in your path, maybe even people you don’t relate to, maybe even people you have a prejudice towards…be Jesus to them.

Today Matters in Eternity

Paul told us to forget the past.  (Philippians 3:14)  Forget all the good things we did and all the sin and failure.  Why? because if we keep looking back we will waste today.

Jesus also told us not to worry about tomorrow…

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. – Matthew 6:34

Basically, you can’t change tomorrow’s troubles by worrying about them so don’t waste today doing so.

You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.
–  James 4:14

Life is short.  We need to live in the moment, carpe diem.  Not the way people live without God in mind, grabbing as much hedonistic pleasure as we can or building our own legacy so we feel significant.  No.  Grab today because God only made one.

The value of something is often determined by how rare it is.  I have a Vecchio statue that is a small version (28″ long) of the famous life size statue called “Equestrian” that is a tourist attraction in Venice Italy.  I won’t bore you with the details of how I came to own it but let’s think of why it’s valuable.  Yes, it is a beautiful piece of art but in general small statues (even those made by famous dead artists) aren’t worth the thousands of dollars that larger statues are, but this one is.  Why?  It’s rare.

Only six were believed to have been made and it was made by a method called the “Lost Bronze-Wax Method” which is an ancient art-form used to make bronze statues during that era. (Some artist resurrect that art form today.) A rare antiquity, made by a master craftsman, in a rare way.

What makes that statue valuable also makes today valuable.  Today is a beautiful masterpiece created by the universe’s greatest artist and He only made one.

Here’s the part most people miss.  God made today to count for eternity.  Great artists make creations that people want to enjoy thousands of years later.  God wants us to enjoy the fruit of today, the beautiful art work we can create with Him, for eternity.

If we will live today to create eternity in our heart then share that beauty with someone else, God will come along side us to create something amazing.  Like Mozart reaching around a child’s hands as they plunk out ‘chop sticks’ for the first time, playing a brillant symphony, God will make today an eternal masterpiece through your hands.