Lent: A Season for Spiritual Improvement

Dear Friends:

I hope that your Bible reading is going well, and welcome to those of you who have just joined The Bible Challenge.

Today is Ash Wednesday – one of only two days in the Episcopal Church calendar (along with Good Friday) where the Church encourages us to fast (eat very lightly and drink more fluids) – and a special day in the life of the Church, especially for each of us making a spiritual journey.

I like Lent.  I must shamelessly confess that I like self-improvement.  It is satisfying to do something to improve oneself, whether it be exercising more, learning a new language, taking art classes, practicing yoga or reading great books.

 

Lent is a season for spiritual self improvement.  It is a time to go deeper and not live on the surface of life.  Most of us could benefit from putting our spiritual life more front and center for 40 days.  Perhaps Lent should be year-round.  After all, we don’t eat healthily or exercise only for 40 days of the year and then neglect our body for the remainder of the year.  If we did, the results would be devastating.

By participating in The Bible Challenge you are already taking on a major spiritual challenge.  God honors your prayerful reading of the Bible each day.  As you let God’s Word seep into you, as you ponder its message and meaning, the Word slowly and quietly transforms you.  The mind that was in Christ Jesus is now in you.

Reading the Bible helps us to feel calmer and more centered.  God’s Word knits together the frayed nerves that come from ceaseless activity, constant stress and chronic worries.

Traditionally, we take on a spiritual discipline or give up something for Lent.  Do not be like that man who told his bishop that he had given up white chocolate for Lent.  Jesus did not fast and pray and combat the devil in the wilderness for 40 days and nights so that we might trivialize Lent.

If Christians are to have a contagious faith and stand for anything, our lives must be somewhat extraordinary.  Our morals, the ways that we spend our time and money, and the tasks to which we apply our best energies should be noticeably different.  They should be purer, better and more selfless.  We have a high calling.

Here are two brief suggestions for Lent.  Memorize a verse of the Bible each day.  Order some Bible flash cards or write down a Bible verse each day and carry it with you.  Take it with you in the car.  Place it on your desk or on the kitchen counter.  Commit it to memory.

By the end of the day you will have carried the Word with you throughout the day.  You will have internalized God’s Word.  It will be part of you.  One day it will come to mind when most needed, and it will guide and comfort you or you may offer it to a friend, stranger or loved one as a spiritual bouquet to brighten his or her day.

 

This will be my spiritual Lenten discipline.  If you would like to join me, you can order “Bible Verses” (1,000 Bible flash cards) from Visual Education, P.O. Box 1666, 581 West Leffel Lane, Springfield, OH, 45501 or call 1-800-243-7070 or e-mail: sales@vis-ed.com  or order a book called Great Verses from the Bible by calling 1-610-933-7543.
This fall I attended a Bible conference in Florida.  The Rev. Rick Warren was one of many fabulous speakers.  Rick runs an enormous church called The Saddleback Church in California and is author of The Purpose Led Life.  He surprised me when he said, “The number one spiritual tool by far in my life and ministry is Scripture memorization.  I use it every day, and it has transformed my life and ministry.”  You won’t find many Episcopalians saying that, but undoubtedly we could benefit from it.

 

Second, add some prayer to your Bible reading.  Before you begin reading, set yourself in the presence of God.  Sit quietly and invite God’s Spirit to speak to you as you read God’s Word.  Ask God to give you wisdom to sort out what is extraneous in what you read and to help you uncover the spiritual gold that God has awaiting you.

Close by offering prayers for those that you know are in need.  Hold them in God’s healing light.  Offer a simple prayer of adoration and praise to God.  God enjoys our appreciation, and praise transforms our soul.  Thank God for a few of your countless blessings.  Then ask God to use you effectively to touch the lives of others today.

 

Pray your schedule: ask God to be with you as you eat lunch with a friend, visit with a colleague, make a major decision or spend family time.  Ask God to help you to be emotionally present to each person you spend time with today.

Finally, lay before God your deepest need or needs for this day.  Then sit in silence and let God communicate God’s love, care and wisdom for you this day.  Let Lent be a time of rich blessing for you.  Trust in your heart that God will honor whatever Lenten discipline you commit to and use it to draw you closer to God who is already closer to you than you are to yourself.

With every blessing,

Study the Bible

Dear Bible Challenge Participants

One of the great things about The Bible Challenge is that you can participate on your own and when it suits your schedule.  It is said that 23% of Americans have a work conflict that makes it difficult for them to attend church on Sunday morning.  Fortunately, there is no set time when you must participate in The Bible Challenge.  You can read the Bible in the morning, afternoon or evening.

One thing is vital.  You and I need to participate four, five or six times a week to make true progress in our Bible reading.  This is what President John Adams, our second United States President, did every year of his adult life.  Adams read the entire Bible each year.  He studied the Scriptures every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning.

We can read the Bible when it works best for our schedule.  One of our current Bible Challenge participants is listening to the Bible while he exercises each day.  So far he is up to Numbers and has shed five pounds.  Congratulations, Dave!  Your personal numbers are melting off!

Unlike John Adams, who could read the Bible only in printed form, we can listen to the Bible on a CD, MP3 or on Pandora.  We can read it on a mobile device such as an iPad, iPhone, Kindle, Nook or Blackberry.  The genius of The Bible Challenge is that it gives the Bible back to people.  The Bible is the Church’s book, but more importantly it is our book.  The Bible is God’s Word intended for you and me to read like a love letter from God written directly to each of us.

You may even want to begin your reading by saying, “Nancy, God says to you”….and then begin reading.  Of course, there are parts of the Bible that are mystifying or painfully problematic.  I will address these in future writings.

The Bible Challenge allows us to read successfully through the entire Bible in a year or to read the Gospel of Mark, the New Testament, The Message or The Story, if we choose to make a smaller commitment rather than read the entire Bible.  Whatever we read in the Bible, it will help us to understand God’s activity in human life.  We can begin applying God’s wisdom to our daily life.

The mere process of prayerfully reading God’s Word will have a strong spiritual impact on our life.  Our reading chair will become a sanctuary.  Our reading time will become our Sabbath time.  By the time we go to church on Sunday, we come to worship with a full heart and no longer arrive with our spiritual gas tank registering empty.

If we succeed in our Bible reading commitment, the following almost always occurs.  First, we have more questions than when we started.  Second, we want to understand more about what we have been reading.  Third, we want to share our thoughts, questions and learning with others.  One way to accomplish this is to participate in a Bible study.  At St. Thomas’ Church, we offer quite a few Bible studies.  If you live too far away to attend one of our Bible studies, please consider joining one at your church or creating one with a group of friends.

If you would like to know more about our Bible studies or would like help from one of our Bible leaders, clergy or me to help form your own Bible study, please email me at: mzabriskie@stthomaswhitemarsh.org  Our lay leaders, clergy and I would be delighted to assist you.

Bibles studies are not daunting.  Everyone in them is an amateur.  All of us are learning.  Each person had to start out somewhere and begin reading and studying with others for the first time.  Most Bible studies are thrilled to have someone new join them.  All of our Bible studies are open to you to join them.  There is no secret pass code, education level or Bible knowledge that you must have attained before you can join.  Just inquire, visit and participate.  Give it a try.

The Bible is meant to be read and studied in a community.  Jesus says, “Whenever two or more are gathered together in my name, I will be in the midst of them.”  The implication is that when we gather to study God’s Word, learn God’s wisdom and reflect what God has revealed in the Word, Jesus is present.  We in turn experience the abundant life that Jesus promised us, and we find a light to guide our path each day.

Whether we are succeeding or struggling in reading the Bible on our own, each of us can gain much by participating in a Bible study at church or in our own home.  Bible study rewards us spiritually, and God honors our efforts as we seek to understand the Word and apply it to our daily life.

With every blessing,