Preparing Our Hearts for Easter – Ritual or Relationship?

Easter is coming soon.

For Christians, this is the most important holiday of the year!

What is Easter? Yes, it is fun to play bunnies and baskets of goodies and hidden eggs. But No, that is not Easter.

Easter is God – Himself – physically dying a tortuous death, then conquering death itself, so I can spend eternity with Him. That is Christianity! That is the Love of God!

Therefore, Easter is something that we must prepare our hearts for.

My sin has built an impenetrable barrier between God and myself. Now is the time to face that barrier – admit that I have built it and admit that I cannot take it down by myself.

God is Love. As sinners we have cut ourselves off from all Love. Gossip, jealousy, slander, hate, perversion, cruelty, violence – these all come from a lack of Love in our lives. A lack of Love in our lives comes from keeping God at a distance; it comes from not investing in that relationship.

It is vital that we connect with God personally.

When we think of preparing for Easter, do we think of Ritual or Relationship?

The dictionary definition of a ritual is:

  • done in accordance with social custom or normal protocol
  • like handshakes and background checks
  • an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner

Lent can be a ritual, as can communion.

Ritual can blind us – making us think that we are preparing our hearts when we are really just going through the motions.

Ritual is not bad. It can be very good. However, if it becomes our goal, then it is getting in the way of our Relationship with God.  

Let’s move away from ritual – and towards Relationship.

  • Sit down and make a list on paper of all the sins you have ever committed. Be honest. Use a whole notebook if need be.
  • Read the list and soak in it. Let the heavy weight descend on you. Don’t push it away when you begin to feel uncomfortable.
  • Cry over that list.
  • Apologize to the Father, to the Son Jesus Christ, and to the Spirit. Spend time with this. Don’t rush.
  • Picture yourself wearing sackcloth and covered in ashes.
  • Beg the Father’s forgiveness.
  • Ask Jesus to come into your heart.
  • Pray for the Spirit to fill you with His Love.
  • Listen for what God has to say to you!
  • Listen some more.

Spend time with each step. Don’t make it a perfunctory ritual. “Okay, I did it.”

This should take at least two hours.

Do you feel God’s presence? If not, then commit to more hours of prayer in the coming week. Prove to Him that you are serious about this. Invest in building this relationship.

How do you build a relationship that is important to you? You spend time with that person. You talk, you laugh, you cry, you ask a lot of questions to get to know them better. You tell them a lot about yourself.

Revelation 3:19-20

        Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

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Prepare you heart for this coming Easter season!

Pray the New Year In

The world has much to pray about this New Year. The virus may be uppermost in your mind, but for now let’s go deeper than that. We all want to be happy and healthy and comfortable. So that is how we pray.

I propose that we are praying for the wrong things.

God has promised to hear us, to answer us, to be there with us. He has not promised to give us every item we ask for. His will is not for every person to be healed, happy and comfortable. His will is for every person to come to Him, to connect with Him in a real relationship of Love.

Matt. 7:7-8 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Ask and ‘it’ will be given to you.” What is ‘it’? It is that close, loving relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord. God has promised to give ‘it’ to us and He will, but we must seek for it – in truth.

Do we really want to hear God – or do we just want God to hear us? We cannot have one without the other.

Ps. 145:18 The Lord is near to all who call on him. To all who call on him in truth.

Yet at times, praying is hard work. Paul Miller describes it this way in his book A Praying Life.

“We last for about fifteen seconds, and then out of nowhere the day’s to-do list pops up and our minds are off on a tangent. We catch ourselves and, by sheer force of the will, go back to praying. Before we know it, it has happened again. Instead of praying, we are doing a confused mix of wandering and worrying. Then the guilt sets in. Something must be wrong with me. Other Christians don’t seem to have this trouble praying. After five minutes we give up, saying, “I am no good at this. I might as well get some work done.

Something is wrong with us. Our natural desire to pray come from Creation. We are made in the image of God. Our inability to pray comes from the Fall. Evil has marred our image. We want to talk to God but can’t. The friction of our desire to pray, combined with our badly damaged prayer antennae, leads to constant frustration. It’s as if we’ve had a stroke.”

Doubts begin to creep in. Does it even do any good to pray? Does God even care? Is there even a God out there? But we cannot admit our doubts to others – sometimes we cannot even admit them to ourselves. Then guilt begins to pile on top of doubt like ten thick woolen blankets, shutting out the light and the air.

Or maybe we have prayed non-stop for years for a friend’s healing or a family member’s salvation with no improvement whatsoever. Then we give up completely.

Paul Miller shares with us, “Life’s unexpected turns had created a path in my heart to God; God taught me to pray through suffering.”

Note what he said – “…created a path in my heart to God”. That is relationship! Relationship that was built in the hard times.

Praying is reaching out to God. It is connecting with Him no matter what happens afterward. He doesn’t need the ‘right words’ in the ‘right formula’. We need to lay ourselves before Him, to Love Him, to feel Loved by Him.

Matt. 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

What is it that is heavy on your heart this New Year?

Go to God.

Lay it down at His feet and reach out – earnestly – for His love.

Seek God, not answers.

Seek God and He has promised you will find Him.

Blind

(Story written by Chuck Murphy, found in his book Christ and the Cowboy. This is a wonderful picture of how God guides us.)

A lot of snow has fallen since I found the blind calf on the rock ledge nearly thirty years ago.

I had made most of my circle starting the calves to the feedlot. It had snowed about three inches the afternoon before, with enough wind to shake it out of the trees and clear the rocks and bare ground. I had ridden out on a rocky point when I saw a lone calf on a rock ledge some three hundred yards away. I rode as close as I could, dismounted, and climbed down to where he was. He had gotten over a rounded sandstone ledge about three feet high. There was a crack in the rock that he could have gotten up if he could have found it. Downward escape would have been to fall about five feet over another rounded edge to the grass and rocks below. The space that he was trapped on was about ten feet by fifteen feet. I could see where he had licked some snow for moisture, and had eaten the few bites of coarse grass at the base of the upper ledge. He was gaunt, dehydrated, and had probably been there for two or three days. His biggest problem was that he was totally blind in both eyes.

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I knew that my horse couldn’t pull him back up over the ledge, and felt the best rescue effort was for him to jump down and make his way to open ground out the bottom. As I tried to encourage him to jump, I realized that he had no idea of how far it would be, and that he would feel like he was falling off the edge of the world. I maneuvered him to the area above the least rocks and pushed him off. My heart filled with compassion as I tried to imagine the fear of falling into the unknown.

In disoriented panic he scrambled to his feet and tried to escape this monster that had pushed him into this new field of obstacles and hazards. He bumped into trees and large rocks, and stumbled over the smaller rocks and down logs.

It took me several minutes to get back to my horse and ride around the rim to where he was. He had stumbled into a more open park, and I began to talk to him. He moved away from my voice and eventually learned that he could walk slowly without falling by taking high steps. I could have roped him at this time, but his fighting the rope would have been harder on him than falling over invisible hazards. I stayed fifty to seventy-five feet away, moving wide to either side, and by keeping a constant voice reference, I was able to maneuver him out on to an open meadow with no obstacles. From there, we had to negotiate a hundred-foot wide pass in the rim.

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I had switched to some cowboy songs to maintain a consistent sound, and he would move with some confidence. He soon learned that when my voice changed to words, an obstacle was eminent and he would be more cautious. At the top of the little pass we hit a trail used by the other calves. He became more sure of himself, feeling the trail with his feet and turning back when he felt the undisturbed snow on the side. Soon the calves that had already gathered at the feed lot began to bawl in response to my voice. The blind calf perked up in recognition of the sound of his kind. He knew that he had a chance if he could once more get with the herd. When the blind calf heard the cadence of the water pump jack he turned to the tank and drank deeply.

By the time I had the grain in the troughs he was mixed into the herd never to be isolated again.

This is the end of the story as far as the calf, but it has affected my life for over thirty years.

I remember the anguish in my heart as I pushed the frightened calf over the edge of the rock, and think of the anguish of Father God, as he pushes some of His children into frightening circumstances to save their souls.


I love this story. It is so easy for us to see that the cowboy has only good intentions for the calf. The calf need only trust this cowboy who knows how to rescue him.

Yet it is so difficult at times for us to see that Father God has only good intentions for us, His creation. We need only trust our Father who knows how to rescue us. The fall may feel like a plunge into the unknown darkness, but it is Father God bringing us closer to Him.

God Speaks

My husband and I recently returned from a road trip. Some said we were crazy to go at such a time as this. Some were jealous. We needed to do something uplifting in our lives during this sad and anxious time.

We took off in our tiny RV in October and spent the fall winding through the national parks in Utah as well as the desert in Arizona.

As we turned off the news and opened our eyes to God’s creation – something changed inside of us. We saw God’s eternal power in the mountains and canyons that He formed. We saw His divine nature spread before us mile after mile in the living creation around us.

We stood at the edge of Bryce Canyon and witnessed God’s wisdom and majesty.

Bryce Canyon National Park – Utah

We kayaked the waters of Lynx Lake and marveled at what a great God we have.

Lynx Lake, Prescott, Arizona

Romans 1:19 “…what may be known about God is plain, because God has made it plain. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that men are without excuse.”

Max Lucado tells the story of meeting a rural farmer in Brazil. This man raised his family of 14 on a tiny two acres. He told Max, “I have no trouble believing in God. After I see what he has done on my little farm, year after year, it is easy to believe.” Max said, “His faith was rooted in the simple miracles that he witnessed every day: A small seed becoming a towering tree. A think stalk pushing back the earth. A rainbow arching in the midst of the thundercloud…Someone who witnessed God’s daily display of majesty doesn’t find the secret of Easter absurd. Someone who depends upon the mysteries of nature for his livelihood doesn’t find it difficult to depend on an unseen God for his salvation.”

Max assures us, “Miracles happen all around us; we only have to pay attention.”

A time such as this should not move us indoors where we cannot view divine majesty. The more difficult our lives become, the more time we need to spend outside – listening to what God has to say.

We must turn around and see the voice that is speaking to us. (Revelation 1:12)

The Thoughts of God

Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my thoughts higher than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9

(From Andrew Murray, Teach Me to Pray)

God’s thoughts are “altogether beyond the power of our comprehension”.

Some people say – “God is cruel to send this virus.” …or that earthquake…or that flood. Others say there must be no God if all of this is happening.

These kinds of thoughts are not God’s thoughts – they are the thoughts of fallible people. God’s plans and purposes are light years away from ours. Once we truly understand that, then we can be humble before God and await His plan.

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Andrew Murray goes on to say, “God tells us that we are made in His image. By grace we are actually renewed again into that image. As we gaze upon God’s glory in Christ, we are changed into the same image by His Spirit. These, too, are thoughts, beyond our comprehension – our minds cannot take them in.

“God, by His Holy Spirit, conveys to our hearts the life and the light that can make us feel at home with these thoughts dwelling in us. But we need daily, prayerful fellowship with God if we are to enter into His mind and to have His thoughts make their home in us. It is by faith that God will not only reveal the beauty and the glory of these thoughts but will actually work in us their divine reality.

“Just think of what Paul writes: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). But as we pray God will reveal them through His Spirit.”

…God will reveal them.

…It is by faith.

…We need daily, prayerful fellowship with God.

As long as we are demanding of God, sitting in judgement of Him and His work, the door is closed between us and Him.

But – Be humble before the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:10)

Wait…and Listen

Insight for Living publishes a Daily Devotional. The following is their devotional for Sunday, March 22, 2012, yesterday. It touched me deeply so I wanted to share it with you. They also have a large Broadcast Library from which you can choose from Hundreds of broadcasts.

During the three days of waiting, there is a “white space” when nothing is happening—at least nothing visible. You could easily tell yourself at the time, “I’m waiting in vain. Nothing’s going to change.” That’s what the adversary wants you to think: “Waiting’s a waste.” Don’t you believe it! When the enemy’s message roams into your mind, you need to kick it out. Reject it. Look at another verse in Isaiah, just a few verses after the “eagle” verse.

Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

For I am the LORD your God, who upholds your right hand,
Who says to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:1013)

It’s those kinds of thoughts that surely strengthened Esther while she was waiting, praying, and fasting for those three days. Mordecai did the same, as Esther had commanded. But now their roles were reversed. He was no longer in charge; she was. Or, better still, the Lord was. And as the Lord gripped her heart, she became unafraid of what she faced.

This may be one of those “white spaces” in your own life. Maybe it’s time for you to pray and fast and to call upon a few close friends to fast and pray with you. Maybe it’s time for you to say, “I’m not going to rush into this unpredictable and unprecedented situation. I can’t find the path to walk. So I’m going to wait. In the meantime, I’m going to give it to God. I’m going to listen with a sensitive ear and watch the Lord’s leading with a sensitive eye.”

God counsels us with His eye. The eye makes no sound when it moves. It requires a sensitive, earthly eye to watch the movement of the eye of God—God’s directions. All He may do is turn your attention in another direction. But that may be all you need. As you wait, listen. Pore over a favorite passage in His Word. Quietly give attention to His presence, and He gives you direction.”

The website is: https://www.insight.org/resources/daily-devotional/individual/wait-.-.-.-and-listen1

6 Reasons to be Grateful for COVID-19

Our world is currently experiencing an enormous challenge in the shape of this quickly spreading virus. Some people have become extremely fearful. Often this fear takes the form of lashing out in anger or hoarding items they perceive to be essential.

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Rather than give in to these things, I entered my prayer closet and sat with God awhile. When I came out, I realized that I could be grateful for even this. Here are six reasons that I am grateful the COVID-19 virus came along.

  1. It makes me humble. I am not as strong as I like to believe. The world tells us that we are strong and powerful, that we can do anything. It also tells us that we deserve everything, so we should go out and get it. Reality is, I am not powerful at all. I am weak and I am afraid. Yet God is All Powerful.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor. 12:9
  2. It makes me remember God. The most important things in life are not buying a new shiny car, or going to the next big party. The most important things in life are God, people and showing love in tangible ways.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matt 22:37
  3. It gives me an opportunity to stand up and encourage other people. The Oxford dictionary defines to encourage as to give support, confidence, and/or hope to another. Some synonyms are to uplift, inspire and motivate. A community or society of people can withstand and accomplish SO much, if they strive to encourage one another daily.     “Encourage one another daily.” Hebrews 3:13
  4. It gives me an opportunity to show grace to others. People are scared and not acting like themselves, but they are doing the best they can. Neighbors, companies and corporations are made up of people who are doing the best they can. The customer service person on the other end of the line has probably had a harder day than I have. A gentle and patient voice can go a long way to helping others make it through their day. Rather than lashing out in anger or suing people for not being perfect: take a deep breath, smile and tell them ‘Thank You’. I want to be known as a person who made it better, rather than a person who made it worse.
  5. It gives me time for concentrated Bible Study and Prayer. Instead of running to more meetings and meeting friends for drinks, I now have time to find a quiet place where I can open my Bible and search the scriptures. I can now sit at the feet of the Almighty God of the Universe and praise Him for his Power and Love. I can ask Him for His will and for direction in my life. If you draw close to Him, He will draw close to you. He is only waiting for you to open the door, then He will come in and meet with you. (Rev. 3:20)
  1. It gives me time to read a great book. There are so many out there!
    1. https://www.kingsenglish.com/newsletter This is a fantastic independent bookstore that has a newsletter (Inkslinger) with reviews of some wonderful books. Check it out!
    1. https://www.nytimes.com/books/best-sellers/ Even more books to view here!
    1. https://www.christianbook.com/page/christian-books?navcat=Books This site has so many books available, it would take years of secret little viruses to get through them all.
    1. https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/264.Books_That_Everyone_Should_Read_At_Least_Once  This list of classics is full of high-quality literature that will never go out of demand.

“Social Distancing” will not always be with us – but for now, let’s focus on, and enjoy, what we CAN do, not bemoan what we cannot.

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No matter where we are or what we are doing – we can always spend more time with God!

“Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1Cor 1:3

Please share a suggestion or a story to tell about a positive way someone is spending their days.

Beauty

On December 22, 2019, we had a beautiful wedding in our family.

Matt and Eriko

The bride was beautiful – and her dress! The groom was handsome. The church was all decorated up for Christmas, and was the perfect beautiful setting for such an event.

Wedding music, glowing candles, fresh flowers, beaming faces, magnificent dresses, and happy tears. The indescribable joy fills everyone’s heart.

Yet, True beauty is even deeper; “…the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:4

Both of these young people are truly beautiful. They are considerate and thoughtful to their families as well as gracious, kindhearted and helpful to one another. Our entire family is bursting with pride for this young couple and we are excited to see where God will take them.

May God greatly bless you both in the coming year, and in the future as you reach out to teach and love those around you.

Christ, the Nearness of God

(The devotional Teach Me To Pray is full of wonderful words from Andrew Murray that encourage us in our spiritual lives. Here is one of my favorites.)

Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you. James 4:8

It has been said that the holiness of God is the union of God’s infinite distance from sinful man with God’s infinite nearness in His redeeming grace. Faith must always seek to realize both the distance and the nearness.

In Christ, God has come very near to man. Now the command comes: If you want God to come still nearer, you must draw nearer to Him. The promised nearness of Christ Jesus expressed in the promise, “And be sure of this: I am with you always” (Matt 28:20), can only be experienced as we draw near to Him.

This mean that at the beginning of each new day, we must yield ourselves to His holy presence. It means a voluntary, intentional, and whole-hearted turning away from the world to wait on God to make Himself known to our souls. It means making time to allow him to reveal Himself. It is impossible to expect the abiding presence of Christ with us through the day without the daily exercise of strong desire and child-like trust in His word.

As you pray, let these words come to you with new meaning each morning: “Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you.” Wait patiently and He will speak in divine power: “I am with you always.”

Remember – Part II

God is Never Late by Billy Graham

The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade at your right hand. Psalm 121:5

In order for a tree or any plant to grow and bear fruit, its seed must first be planted in the ground and die. In order for spiritual fruit to appear in our lives, we must first be planted in the Word of God and then die to self. In the face of chastening, adversity, discipline, and affliction, God’s Word nourishes our lives and fruit begins to appear. But it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and patience.

Joseph would never have been of use to God had he not been sold into slavery by brothers who hated him, and then wrongly accused by Potiphar, who put him in prison. Even after he had told Pharaoh’s cupbearer he would be restored to the kings’ court and asked him to tell Pharaoh of his unjust imprisonment, Joseph had to wait two more years for release from prison.

As we wait upon the Lord, He may sometimes seem slow in coming to help us, but He never comes too late. His timing is always perfect.

Are you in a season of waiting? Don’t let it be a wasted season. Study God’s Word so that your roots grow deep, and spend time in prayer so that you recognize His voice when it’s time to move.

Written by Billy Graham