Tag Archives: devotional

Worship Wednesday – Ash Wednesday – A Lenten Devotional by Jim Denison

Blog - Lent - Ash Wednesday - from article by Jim Denison“An evil spirit of this kind is only driven out by prayer and fasting.” – Matthew 17:21

It wasn’t until I was six years old that church became any sort of meaningful in my life. My mom worked all the time in those days, and finally, after a last-resort divorce, she settled us into a better life of meager means and lavish love. It was then that we responded to an invitation of neighbors, and a weary single mom and four eager children met the welcome care of a loving church. Our experience was small town Bible-Belt Baptist, and that set the foundation for my understanding of God. In fact, when I signed up for a World Religions course as a college freshman, I thought it would only be about Christianity.

My first experience with Lent was seeing my best friend on a Wednesday long ago, after she had disappeared from our usual routine. We met for lunch and she had this mysterious, ashen cross smudged on her forehead. I resisted the urge of just lovingly wiping it off for her, thinking she was unaware of it. Pointing it out instead, she taught me my first lessons on Lent – on repentance, fasting (sacrifice), the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ. All of that was gloriously real for me already, except for setting aside 40 days of resolve prior to the celebration of Easter.

For years, I still didn’t take Lent very seriously and still don’t know quite how to incorporate it into my life…except that my thinking is changing. In this world gone mad, I am more convinced than ever that we as the Church need to stand together for the sake of the nations and for the glory of God. If in Lent, I can find elements that help me see God and my own need for Him more clearly, then I want to integrate Lenten practice into my life.

That said, Jim Denison has written a beautiful 40-day devotional for this year’s Lenten season. It’s entitled Transformed – How Stories of the Cross Are Changing the World*. A dear friend gave me the paper copy, but I encourage you to take advantage to the free download and start reading, praying, and fasting (as God leads) today.2015 Blog on Easter Lenten Devotional & American Idol 004

Corporate month-long fasting has never been a draw for me, as I was always completely sure it would be a fail for me. While we lived in North Africa, and especially in Egypt, fasting was very much a part of my Muslim and Christian neighbors’ lives. Even those Christians who were evangelical (from Coptic backgrounds) saw the importance of fasting. Their awareness of the evil of sin in the world and the need for drastic measures lined up solidly with Jesus’ own life and teaching on this.

For the past several years, during Lent, I read Adrian Plass’ book The Unlocking – God’s Escape Plan for Frightened People. It was also a gift from a good friend. There’s a lot in this world that’s frightening these days. Yet God is still God and is at work in the midst of so much crazy. I believe Him at His word. Full stop. We have a role in dealing with what we see in the world. As Jesus told His disciples (Matthew 17:21), there is evil that we can only battle, from our side, with prayer and fasting. This is a strength in a true observance of Lent.Blog - Lent - Easter (3)

As we grieve so much death around us in these days, and as we look to Easter, I would like to close with a prayer from Adrian Plass’ book:

“Loving heavenly Father, I want to try to tackle this business of loving enemies. First of all I’m going to sit quietly here and go through a mental list of the folk who I would call my enemies. Help me to be really honest…I don’t want to leave anyone out….I’ve done it, Lord. There are rather a lot, and some of them I really hate. But You made it quite clear that You can’t forgive me if I don’t forgive them, so I’ll start the process, even if it takes a long time to mean it. Love them for me, Lord, and please accept my prayers for their welfare and safety. Soften my hard heart as the days go by, until I begin to see them through Your eyes. Thank You for forgiving me. Amen.”

For these forty-plus days before Easter, I will be reading Transformed; referring back to the book-marked portions of The Unlocking; reflecting on God and the goodness and wisdom He displays through Jesus’ life and teachingresisting (fasting from) those money- and time-stealers that distract me from larger issues; repenting of the sins of neglect and indifference; and remembering to pray and reach out to God and those around me as His vessel for His purposes among the nations.

Denison Forum

*pdf 2015 Lenten Devotional Transformed – How Stories of the Cross are Changing the World by Jim Denison

Why is Lent Relevant for Evangelicals? by Jim Denison

Evangelicals Embracing (and Rejecting) Lent by Trevin Wax

Lenten Observances – Eastern & Western Traditions

The Coptic Church and Worship

A Catholic Homily for this Ash Wednesday in memory of the Coptic Christians killed last week [Beautiful blog – I do not believe in praying to anyone except God; still I appreciate the call to all of us to remember others caught in the cross-fire of evil in this world. Praying for their families and for those who are unfortunately enemies of the church.]

Photo Credit – Ash Wednesday – Jennifer Balaska via en.wikipedia.org

Old Friends…Books of Mine

2014 May Blog 018

We’re packing to move house.  Now, I know wisdom is to purge as much as possible.  These books, that I can hold in my hand, and recognize both intellectually and emotionally, are like old friends.  Just looking at them on the shelf reminds me of the lessons God has taught me through them.  It’s like the joke about the jokes that old men tell over and over around the wood stove in a country store.  After years of telling the same jokes, (the joke goes), they just numbered them and call out the number of whatever joke they want to re-tell that day, and everyone chuckles, satisfied with the pleasure of remembering.  That’s how these books are to me…just seeing them on the bookcase by my bed each evening reminds me of the great truths their authors have taught me over the years.  Books are more and more electronically enjoyed these days, but I love to hold them in my hands, turn the pages, smell the paper…the older the better.  Years of wisdom. Real life. Truth.

Biographies & Autobiographies – the story of a life is so fascinating.  What were the influences? The relationships? The hopes and fears? The conflicts and challenges?  What did they learn that they could teach us – decades or centuries later? McCasland’s Oswald Chambers – Abandoned to God tells the story of the short, full life of the man who gave us My Utmost for His Highest. Most who know Chambers’ books know that he only wrote one, and his wife Biddy, a highly competent stenographer, compiled the 29 other books by Oswald Chambers. He spoke; she wrote. And we all have the rich fruit of both their labors.  A favorite autobiography of mine is C. S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy – The Shape of My Early Life. To hear Lewis’ voice in this volume brings to life all over again his wit (Screwtape Letters) and wisdom as he marks how God drew him to Himself. You’ll see other biographical books in the picture, but I’ll close this section with Noel Piper’s Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God. In her book, she gives the reader biographical sketches of 5 “ordinary” women who lived in different periods of the last 250 years. Ordinary women completely devoted to an extraordinary God. Their legacy includes us who are inspired to live like them…for Him.

Devotional Books – I mentioned Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, which has been a companion to the Bible for countless Christians. A favorite of mine as well.  Here, though, I want to mention four other devotionals.  Two are authored/compiled by women. Mrs. Charles E. (Lettie) Cowman wrote Streams in the Desert (you can find a daily excerpt from this at http://www.backtothebible.org/index.php/devotions/classics/charles_cowman.html). Mary Wilder Tileston gathered the writings of many great spiritual fathers and mothers of our past and presented them to the reader in Joy & Strength (her daily devotionals are also found at http://www.backtothebible.org/index.php/devotions/classics/mary_wilder_tileston.html). One of the Puritan fathers, William Gurnall, wrote the classic The Christian in Complete Armour which focuses on spiritual warfare. All these books have several pages marked with bits of paper for me to return to as needed.

Relationship Books – Anything you ever discover written by Tom Elliff will be rich in humor, wisdom, and love.  We’ve used his books on marriage/marriage preparation many times over, often having to replace them because they don’t always make it back home. Letters to Lovers and Unbreakable are two must-reads. Then there are books that have such a provocative subtitle that your horizon expands before you even make it to the first page.  Such a book is Gary Thomas’ Sacred Marriage – What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? So many great books in this section I’d love to captivate you with but will close with Gene Edwards’ A Tale of Three Kings. This book is “a study in brokenness” (as the subtitle reveals), illustrated dramatically by the intertwined lives of Saul, David, and Absalom.

One book in my collection of favorites you may have as well, but maybe not in Arabic.  It is The Bible. This book is the enduring Word of God. His Story. Over the last twenty years, during our time living in the Arab world, hearing the Word read or quoted in Arabic was a delight to my soul.  My reading it aloud in Arabic sounds like that of a new reader, a child both new to reading and to the language.  It’s all together a different experience to hear the Bible read by someone in his heart language who reads the same words, that opened life to me in English, but in Arabic. When I think of Heaven, it makes my heart glad to think that we might understand God’s Word in all languages. I won’t mind if there are no books there…but for me, here, they are a glimpse of Heaven…these stories of the saints, this great “Cloud of Witnesses”, spurring us on…to know God and to make Him known; to love Him and our neighbors as ourselves.

For now, for our moving day, these books go into a box marked “Open Early”.

What books are your old friends? I’d love to meet them.