All for Joy

By Ken Childress

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” Hebrews 12:1-2 (BSB).

Many Christians have the perception that God’s rescue mission for the human race was a reluctant venture. We blew it, so He resorted to plan B, at enormous expense, and did what He had to do to save us. His Son suffered excruciating agony to bring us into His Kingdom. He died for lowly, undeserving sinners like us because He had to.

But He didn’t have to, and it wasn’t a chore. It was a sacrifice, to be sure, but it wasn’t a reluctant one. Though the night in Gethsemane was tearful and painful – no one wants to suffer unspeakable pain, after all – the Cross was a willing choice. Jesus didn’t save unworthy sinners because He was obligated to do so. He did it for the joy set before Him.

Think of the great lengths a man deeply in love would go in order to win his beloved’s heart. Whatever price he had to pay, however long he had to wait, whatever obstacles he had to overcome would not seem like a sacrifice. Why? Because of the inestimable worth of the prize. Love goes to any length to be fulfilled. The cost is irrelevant. Only the fulfillment matters.

That’s how Scripture describes the rescue mission Jesus went on to redeem humanity. It was and still is like a bridegroom seeking a bride. No cost is too high, no sacrifice too great, no wait too long. The joy in the end will be worth it.

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This is the role model we are told to fix our eyes on. Because of His great love, Jesus became the author and perfecter of our faith. Just as He endured every obstacle and hindrance because of the joy set before Him, so can we. When we realize our ultimate destination, no cost seems too great. Whatever we face in life today, we can keep going because the goal is worth more than anything we will ever have to endure.

Hebrews 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the JOY set before Him endured the cross.”

God called us to run a race, to soar like eagles on the wind of His Spirit, to overcome the entanglements and weights that would conspire to hold us back. Our burdens are no match for our God my friends. Faith sees the reality of that truth and allows us to keep running our race to the end.

More Than Doing Without

By Charles W. Christian

Lent is the approximately forty day period leading up to Easter Sunday. It is meant to be a time of preparation and reflection that is patterned after Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness at the beginning of His earthly ministry (Mark 1:12-13; Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). As we have entered this season of Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday, many of us have joined Christians all over the world – both Catholics and Protestants – in fasting.

Like Jesus, many Christians have used this time to participate in fasting from food. Others fast from something more specific, like chocolate or coffee, or from certain activities like using social media or watching movies. While fasting has been a key spiritual discipline for Christians throughout history, it may be the most neglected spiritual discipline today. The Lenten season gives the Church an opportunity to return to this often neglected discipline.

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It is important to remember that fasting is meant to remind us of our biblical and historic identification with the poor and needy. Regardless of what we remove from our daily routine, we are reminded that we are intentionally giving up items that many give up without choice. This allows us to more deeply participate in compassion, which literally means “to suffer with another.”

While it is easy to focus on the ‘giving up’ aspect of fasting, there is a deeper meaning to the discipline. Fasting is not just about giving something up, but it is also about replacing.

For instance, time spent away from a favorite TV show could be set aside for more time in Scripture or more time in direct loving service to others. Time and money saved by not eating out may be spent directly on helping the poor and others without food. Time and resources given up can be intentionally put to good use in service to Christ’s Kingdom.

Finally, fasting is meant to draw attention to God and God’s ways, and not to our own sacrifices.  In order for fasting to be Biblical, any sacrifices we make during fasting are to be for deepening our relationship with God and for increasing our participation in the mission of God. Boasting about our fasting or making ourselves into a “spiritual superhero” is to be strictly avoided. “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:16, NIV).

During Lent, as we deepen our walk with God and increase our participation in His mission, we also find time for reflection and repentance. As God and His ways become clearer to us, flaws in our own ways also become clearer. Part of our preparation for resurrection involves allowing the Holy Spirit to move us into areas of growth, which often involves confession and repentance. It is important that we are especially sensitive to these opportunities for growth as we fast and focus.

As people who are living out and telling God’s story, may we make the most of seasons like Lent, allowing ourselves to become more and more like the risen Lord we serve!

Prayer for the week:

Almighty and everlasting God, You hate nothing You have
made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create and
make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily
lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of You, the God of all mercy, perfect remission
and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.

(From the Book of Common Prayer)

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today

 

Why Ash Wednesday Matters

By Caryn Rivadeneira

If you want a faith worth celebrating, it has to start here.

This year’s Ash Wednesday presents a bit of a problem—it’s also my son’s sixth birthday. So, somehow, we have to figure out a way to make the imposition of ashes after his birthday dinner a logical (and festive and fun, maybe even) tie-in. And somehow, we have to weasel a way to combine celebrating my son’s birth on a day designed to keep his eyes on his eventual death. Cheers to that!

But of course, even if Ash Wednesday weren’t my son’s birthday this year, it would still present a problem. It always does. If the doldrums of winter haven’t beaten you down by now, Ash Wednesday—with its laser focus on our morbidity and depravity—is bound to do it. For many of us, it doesn’t take a birthday to tempt us to skip right over this troubling first day of the troubling season of Lent and stick to the happier occasions. After all, Easter’s a-comin’ right?

But there’s a very good reason not to skip Ash Wednesday and all its gloom and trouble, tempting through it may be. Even on a birthday—especially on one, maybe. Because as wonderful and joyous as I want to make my son’s birthday and as much as I want him to know we are thrilled he was born into this world and how worth celebrating he is, I also want him to know that taking time to mark ourselves with a sign of our grief and our sin and our suffering isn’t that bad of a way to end a birthday. It’s actually a pretty good gift.

Not that he’ll catch or appreciate any of this. Not at six. In fact, for many of us much older, we still have a hard time drudging through this dark day or grasping why it’s significant at all.

But in time, it’ll sink in. We all grow to understand that, just as the wonders of life are worth blowing up balloons and eating cake for, so are the hardships of life worth noting. Especially if we want to live a life and a faith worth celebrating.

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Of course, this is what Ash Wednesday is all about. Of course, not every one of us will feel much like heading to church on Wednesday or being told that we are dust and to dust we shall return. And not many of us like to spend much time communally acknowledging our sin or our shame or our suffering or our sorrow. Even still, Ash Wednesday reminds us this acknowledgment is central to our faith.

This year, my church, along with many others, invites folks to mark the first day of Lent with a time of music, quiet prayer and the imposition of ashes at an Ash Wednesday service and offers the hope that “this time of worship will help us walk more closely with Jesus through the Lent and Easter season.” With this, we offer the reminder that “ashes are a symbol of our repentance, of our desire to turn back to God; ashes demonstrate our solidarity of with Jesus, and with his journey to the cross and through the grave; and the sign of the cross in ashes is Christ’s own signature on us, that we belong to him.”

Yes, ashes announce an understanding of our mortality and need for repentance, but at the same time, they proclaim our solidarity with Jesus. They declare our faith in a God who not only wipes us free from sin but who takes the offerings of our broken hearts and our fears and turns them into hope and promise.

All this captured in one smudge—one smear of the ashen cross on my forehead that serves as a symbol of a most poignant paradox of our faith: God brings life out of the sin and suffering. It signifies that He did this with every heavy step Jesus took toward the cross and that He does this with us, with every burdened and broken step we take in this life.

On Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent, we’re invited to a time to look at our missteps and our regrets, our longings and our losses, and offer them all to God, who not only accepts them but transforms them.

After all, in sending His Son to suffer with and for us, God declared that our despair and our hope, our sin and our salvation, our suffering and our celebration are intertwined. He declared it’s through one that we get to the other. It’s through confession that we find forgiveness and through lament that we find healing. And Ash Wednesday offers us opportunity to do both—publicly and communally.

And it’s through this—through the smear of the ashen cross on our foreheads—that we ultimately celebrate the most poignant paradox of our faith: God draws our very hope and life—the cross—right out of our very sin and suffering—the ashes.

In the end, it’s this day of grief that leads us into the biggest cause for celebration.

This original article was published on: Relevant Magazine

A Look at Lent

Just recently we have finished our 40 days of focused prayer for the cities of the Mesoamerica Region. Every January we begin the calendar year by asking the Lord to begin a genesis in us and in the urban populations around the world.  Let us continue to intercede for these cities, and may we give and serve sacrificially in order to witness their transformation!

In 2018, those 40 days ended just a few days before another 40-day experience begins.  In the Christian calendar, this upcoming Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent.  This is a significant season where we as Christ-followers do just that: we follow Christ, and we follow him specifically to the cross.

Our friends at A Plain Account have shared a description of Lent (below) that I hope will prove helpful to you and your congregation during this time.

Lent is a period of fasting and sorrow for our sin in preparation for the celebration of Easter. The purple colors that decorate many sanctuaries in this season represent sorrow, mourning, and suffering. However, purple is also a royal color, reminding us of the sacrifice of our King, Jesus.

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Lent is an exceedingly ancient custom. There is tradition that suggests the original Apostles instituted the practice.

Beginning with Ash Wednesday, Lent lasts 40 days, not counting Sundays. Ash represents our repentance, our sorrow for our sins, and our mortality. The period of 40 is common in the Bible, associated with Moses, Elijah, Noah, Jonah, Jesus, and others. Ash represents the death and destruction caused by sin. To receive an anointing of ash is a sign of repentance.

During this time people often fast from something such as chocolate, TV, or eating meat.  The purpose of a fast is to heighten your awareness of the presence of God. You also might consider adding something to your life during Lent like a spiritual discipline or being more generous. It can be a great way to begin a good habit.

Lent concludes with Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday (the Triumphal Entry) and includes Maundy Thursday (when Jesus washed the disciple’s feet), Good Friday, and Holy Saturday (a day of deep sadness at Christ’s death).

During Lent we recognize our need, and we repent of our sinfulness. The essence of sin is broken relationship. It is when we say “no” to God’s call to love at each moment. Even in this somber time of the year the Resurrection is in the background. There is hope. There is forgiveness. Easter is coming.

Christmas Day 2017

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Here we are.

Christmas.

Lots of waiting for today, and now the hope is realized.

Little kids finally get to open those presents.

Busy workers finally get a day off.

Family members finally get to see each other.

Eat together.

Laugh together.

And each one of these “finallys” is an echo of that first Christmas day.

Estranged and lonely, we find we are – He is – family.

Exhausted and cynical, we find rest in Him.

The Great I Am takes our past, offers us a future, but most of all gives Himself to us as the ultimate present.

Jesus.

We are changed by Your arrival.

We receive You once again.

We need You this day,

this season,

always.

Come.

Advent: Waiting on the Lord’s Coming

By Josue Villatoro

The emphasis during Advent season is on waiting. We are expectant; we are preparing to celebrate Christmas. I like that dynamic. However, Christmas is not an ordinary party: it is not about Santa Claus, the gifts, or even the family. It is good that there are gathered families, gifts under the tree, and a Christmas spirit! But Christmas celebration is more. Christmas is Jesus. In a few days, we will celebrate the God that became human and lived among us. What a wonderful celebration! But we can’t arrive to it all of a sudden, we must prepare ourselves. To celebrate Advent prepares us to commemorate Christmas in the best way possible.

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Each Sunday of this celebration has a value. Last Sunday we emphasized that we are expecting Jesus, because He is our hope. This coming Sunday, and during this week, we are focusing on waiting because we have “faith.” Little word, big significance. We don’t see Him, we haven’t seen Him, but we are sure that someday we will see Him. We prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas because we have faith in Jesus, because we trust His promises. But we are also waiting on His second coming, because we are sure that He will come. Have faith. May there be no argument, power or human evidence to make you doubt your faith rooted in Jesus, the Christ. We celebrate Him, because we trust Him!

Learning from Mary

By Charles W. Christian

I once heard a Catholic priest tell a joke about a scene in Heaven. Jesus walks up to a Protestant and a Catholic and says to them, “I am glad to see you two getting along so well.” Then Jesus turns to the Protestant and says, “I would like to introduce you to my mother.  I don’t think you two have met!”

We Protestants in the crowd laughed, but it challenged me to take a closer look at what we as Christians – both Protestants and Catholics – can learn from Mary.

Based on the Gospels, here are a few lessons that come to mind:

  • We can be available for the work of God: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
  • We can allow faith in God to override our fears:  [Elizabeth said to her], “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her” (Luke 1:45).
  • We can embody thankfulness:  “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
  • We can allow God to use us to speak prophetically to a world in need of a Savior: “He [God] has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered the proud. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:51-52).
  • We can learn to treasure God’s gifts: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

There are many other lessons we can learn from Mary’s example.  During this season of Advent, may we, like Mary, approach the future with humility, faithfulness, and hope.

God has chosen His Church to be the bearers of the good news of the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Let us adore Him, and let us share this good news by the power of the Holy Spirit as we journey together through Advent.

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Prayer for the week:

Teach us obedience, Lord
In every part of our lives
Ears to hear your word
Hands to do your work
Feet to walk your path
A heart for all your people
A mouth to shout your praise
A childlike faith
Humility
Confidence
That says
To the possible
And the impossible
I am the Lord’s servant
May it be to me as you have said.
Amen

(John Birch at faithandworship.com)

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today