A Fast Way to Become a Better Person
by Patrick G Howard
Joel 2: 12 – This is what the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping and mourning.
The Book of Joel is a small one – just two chapters. It is Joel’s message of God’s judgement and salvation. In it, he recounts the devastating plague of locusts that consume everything in the land of Judah. It is a warning to the people of Jerusalem of the consequences if they continue along their sinful path, and a promise of redemption if they turn away.
You often hear this verse on or near Ash Wednesday, and for good reason. The forty days of Lent is a great time to turn away from the things in your life you know you shouldn’t be doing and re-dedicate your lives to God. Of course, if you’re like me you are probably thinking, “Why does it have to be fasting?”
I think fasting is frequently misunderstood. Many people think of it as giving up food or drink. And while that is a perfectly good way to fast, there are many other ways to observe the Lenten season.
I once heard it said that, “Lent is a good excuse to become a better person.” I really like that. While Lent is a special time of prayer, confession and self-denial for many, it can also be a time for self-improvement … A time where we eliminate something that we shouldn’t do or add something that we should. And when you think about it, if you do something for six weeks, it tends to be habit forming.
What if, during Lent, you decided to …
GIVE UP complaining about the things you don’t like or don’t have and replace it with giving thanks for things that you do have. My family started a tradition during Lent a few years ago. We make it a point to frequently find something that we are thankful for in our lives, write a brief note about it and place it in our “gratitude jar.” At the end of the year, we read them all and remember the many blessings in our lives.
You can (and should) turn the bad things in your life into something to be thankful for.
• Instead of mourning over the loss of a loved one, thank God that He placed that person in your life.
• Instead of being angry over the loss of a job (or client), thank God that He closed that door so that another can be opened.
GIVE UP a few minutes of your time to spend in prayer or meditation with God. Resolve to spend 15 minutes with no distractions – no phone … no TV … no radio … NO FACEBOOK! Just be in the presence of God for that time. And I know that it’s hard to find 15 minutes to do anything, but you can do it if you really want to.
GIVE UP one evening a week. Use that time to visit with somebody. It can be somebody that you know and haven’t talked to in a while, or it can be a complete stranger in a senior assisted living home. Maybe you could visit somebody from your church that is shut in and rarely has visitors. Whomever it may be, give somebody else the best gift you have – your time.
This is a very short list. And since none of us are perfect, we can all find something to give up and replace it with something more Christ like. This Lent, let us all focus on becoming a better person.
When Joshua crossed the Jordan River.
by Patrick G Howard
Joshua 3:5 – Then Joshua told the people, “Purify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you.”
Our focus this month comes from the third chapter of Joshua. It’s the culmination of forty years of wandering in the wilderness … forty years of living in tents … forty years of eating quail and manna. Joshua was about to lead God’s people into the Promised Land, but there was one thing standing in their way.
God’s people had to cross the Jordan River … at flood stage … without a bridge or boat. You see, it was spring and the river was full of runoff from the mountains. The raging river was about 90 to 100 feet wide and 10 to 12 feet deep. (Think Brazos River at the 90A bridge in Richmond.) They would need a miracle and a whole lot of faith to remove this roadblock.
Life is simple when we follow God’s instructions.
God gave Joshua specific instructions to cross the river. He told Joshua to select 12 men – one from each of the tribes. They were to stand at the bank of the Jordan, lift the Ark of the Covenant high and take a few steps into the raging river. Once they were in the river, God promised to stop the flow and allow His people to safely pass. They did, and He did. And as Paul Harvey would have said, “Now you know the rest of the story.”
What is your Jordan River?
We all have barriers between us and accomplishing great things. We may say it’s circumstances … or money … or time … or skills … or … But, if we’re honest with ourselves, the biggest barrier is fear. Of course, most of our fear is imagined. The fear of crossing the Jordan River in the spring without a boat is real.
We can learn a lesson from the Israelites. The best way to conquer fear is to just do what God tells you. When we arrive at the water’s edge, we are tempted to say, “Hey Lord. If you will part the waters, I’ll take that first step.” But that’s not how it works. Like the priests carrying the Ark, we have to get our feet wet before God will begin to work His wonders. Just be faithful, take a few steps into the river, and let God do the rest.
Since we have just begun a new year, let it provide a new beginning to us in our lives.
Be flexible. Don’t be afraid of change. Change can be a good thing, if you let it.
Be faithful. Keep your mind, motives and morals pure.
Be futuristic. Let your vision of tomorrow be more vivid than your memory of yesterday.
Be courageous. Jesus is your Good Shepherd, and He is faithful
Be inspired. Read the third chapter of Joshua for a great example of what faith can (and will) do for and in your life.
And finally …
It’s simple, when you listen to Linus.
By Patrick G Howard
Luke 2: 9-14 – (9) And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were so afraid. (10) And the angel said unto them, fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. (11) For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. (12) And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. (13) And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, (14) Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Try asking the question, “What is Christmas all about?” at your next family gathering. I wonder how many answers you would hear. If you asked me that question, I would tell you that, for me at least, the best explanation comes from Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang.
Now, that may seem a little strange, but hear me out.
Every event in the history of mankind was leading to this one moment – the birth of Jesus Christ. People lived and died, spending their whole lives anticipating the coming of the Messiah. They died hoping that the Promised One would come. Humanity waited millennia for this event, and now the time is right for the birth of a King who will save the world.
It’s time for the arrival of the wonderful counselor … the mighty God … the everlasting father … the prince of peace … the King of kings … the Lord of lords. You would expect a majestic entrance for a person of this importance; but how does Jesus arrive?
There were no trumpets … no fanfares … no feasts … no celebrations. No, the King arrives as a baby, in an ordinary place, where everybody is too busy to notice. Only some lowly shepherds knew that something special was happening.
Think about it.
There was no other way it could have been. If Jesus was to be fully human, and live among us as a human, he had to come into the world like a human – as a baby. And because this is so, what better way to describe the meaning of Christmas than Charlie Brown?
If you’re like me, you have enjoyed A Charlie Brown Christmas many times. (If not, you really should watch this wonderful piece of Americna.) I want to draw your attention to the scene where Charlie Brown is frustrated, because he didn’t understand the meaning of Christmas. It was then that Linus took to the stage, and while clutching to his security blanket, explained it perfectly when he recited our focus of the month: Luke 2 (v) 9-14.
Take a moment to watch this video of that scene. There are two words that explain perfectly the significance of Christmas to the world.
Did you get the two words? Here’s a hint. Linus dropped his security blanket when he said those words.
When the angel said to the shepherds, FEAR NOT, Linus dropped his security blanket. The symbolism is clear to me. Linus took heed of the angel’s call, quit relying on his security blanket, and placed his trust in Jesus. It was as though he decided that from that moment on, he had nothing to fear.
It was true then, and it is true today.
The next time you’re worried about how you’re going to pay that unexpected bill … FEAR NOT!
The next time you’re worried about what the doctor is going to tell you at your next visit … FEAR NOT!
The next time you’re worried about how you’re going to get the tree decorated … the presents wrapped … the cookies baked … the cards sent … the house cleaned … the parties attended … and still have time to go to church on Christmas Eve …
Take a moment to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, focus on Luke 2, and …