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.

Come, All You Not So Faithful

By Rev. Chris Gilmore

One of my favorite Christmas carols begins with the line, O, come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. I imagine shepherds and wise men singing these words and asking others to join them as they visit the newborn and long-expected Savior. It is an invitation to gather around Jesus to celebrate his coming.  Come, all you faithful.

But what about the not-so-faithful? Are they invited as well? Can only the joyful and triumphant come to Jesus?

If so the guest list will be remarkably small. Even those who are the most enthusiastic about Jesus are at times unfaithful. We all fail to live up to our own standards, let alone God’s.  We’ve all felt defeated. Honestly, some of us find ourselves here quite often.

As we read the gospels we find that the invitation is much broader than the faithful and joyful. There we see that it is Christ himself who does the inviting. Jesus reveals that his kingdom and his table and his grace are for all people. That he came for the whole world and he invites any and all to come to him. Jesus embodies a love that is for people wherever and whoever they may be.

Sometimes we don’t communicate that message very well. Sometimes we exclude folks who are messy or who sin differently than we do. Sometimes we find it difficult to make room for people who aren’t just like us. Sometimes we act as if we’ve been faithful when we haven’t. Sometimes we pretend to be joyful and triumphant when we are anything but. Sometimes our behavior builds barriers between Jesus and the people he loves.

But Jesus is better than that. And its his party, not ours. And he says you’re invited.

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So yes, come all ye faithful. And come all ye not so faithful too.

Come all you who feel defeated and who feel hopeless.

Come all who are worn out and carry heavy burdens.

Come you who are stressed and at the end of your rope.

Come all who feel dirty and unlovable.

Come you who grieve.

Come wise men with gifts fit for a king.

And come drummer boys with nothing of value to bring.

Come lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes.

Come you who feel overlooked or pushed out or rejected.

Come shepherds and doctors and inn keepers and waitresses.

Come people from every tribe and every tongue. Come young and old.

Come you who feel betrayed. And you have done the betraying.

Come all who blew it this year. And last year.

Come doubters and skeptics. Come with your questions and your intellect.

Come all who hunger and thirst for something more.

Come all of you with baggage.

Come all of you with fear.

Come you with broken hearts and shattered dreams.

Come you have already quit. And those who wish they could.

Come refugees and CEOs.

Come you who are enemies. Come you who are strangers.

Come you anxious and come you hiding behind a mask.

Come you who can barely muster a prayer and you who cry out daily.

Come wanderers and seekers, legalists and charlatans.

Come me. Come you.

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“Come and behold him, born the King of Angels.”

Come and see that the Lord is good.

Come and find hope and help and healing.

Come find rest.

Come and find meaning.

Come and find belonging, find family.

Come find forgiveness and salvation.

Come and find light.

Come find a fresh start.

Come and find grace.

Come and find Jesus. He is Christ the Lord.

When you come you will find that he is better than we have demonstrated and more marvelous than we deserve. He is trustworthy and he is true. He is for us. He is with us.

And you, whoever you are and wherever you’re at or however you feel, are invited. Come.

 This article was originally published at: iamchrisgilmore.com

 

Taking Forgiveness For Granted

By Scott Armstrong

“Come, let us return to the LordHe has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds” (Hosea 6:1).

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(Read Hosea 5:15 – 6:6)

This passage records a conversation between God and his people.  The Lord starts in 5:15 by longing that his rebellious children will seek him.  Israel responds in 6:1-3 in what seems like genuine repentance.  And then God seemingly goes berserk in 6:4-6.  Why does he respond by “cutting them in pieces,” “killing them,” and “flashing lightning upon them” (v.5)? Does any of that make sense?

Let’s look closer.  Israel is treating forgiveness as a given.  God was always so forgiving before; why wouldn’t he be now? “Sure, we’ve sinned, but he’ll still heal us” (v.1).  “Two or three days of good sacrifices and he’ll come around” (v.2).  They take his forgiveness for granted so much that they actually act like they can sin during the night, ask forgiveness, and as surely as the sun will come up the next day (v.3), God will forgive them.

Be careful here.  That kind of attitude is fake and God knows it.  Their love is like the morning dew on the grass that disappears by noon on a hot day (v.4).  The point is clear.  Fake repentance is sickening to God.  He will not forgive those hearts.

In fact, God does not have to forgive anybody.  He longs to; he desires to (Hosea 11:8-9).  But sin is serious.  I think nothing makes God madder than when his own people sin and then ask forgiveness only to cover their bases.  My old youth pastor used to call it “fire insurance”—just lifting up a quick prayer to make sure you’re still going to heaven and not hell.  There is no changed heart and certainly no changed life.  “God will forgive me; I’m going to do what I want and get forgiven later.”

Read these verses again.  Then read 1 John 1:9. The messages are not contradictory.  If we genuinely confess our sins with all our heart, he will forgive us.  Bank on it.  But true confession does not include mouthing a prayer without any plans to change our actions.    

Is there sin in your life and, if so, how do you view it? According to our Lord, it is physically sickening (Rev. 3:16).  He calls us to be holy—a work that only he can do.  What he needs from us is a heart completely turned toward him.  Examine yourself.  Is today the day for genuine repentance?

Ain’t No Difference

By Scott Armstrong

“For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:22b-26 NKJV).”

(Read Romans 3:22-31)

The verses we just read give us some pretty bad news.  We’ve all sinned.  Not one of us is good enough for God.  As The Message says, “We’re all in the same sinking boat,” and that means all of us.  As one country preacher puts it, “There just ain’t no diff’rence.”

Wait a second. No difference? That means the most awful murderer and the kindest, most generous person to ever live share the same destiny if it’s up to us and our own righteousness.

Let’s pretend there is a ladder stretching from humanity on Earth to God in the heavens.  If we piled up all the bad and good things we ever did where would the criminal be? The bottom rung, maybe? Where would Mother Teresa or Billy Graham be—people who have served Christ faithfully and changed the world through their ministries? Let’s put them on rung four or five. And you and I are somewhere in between. With just a few hundred more good works we can maybe reach God, right?

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There’s only one problem. The ladder has a million rungs. If it’s up to us to reach God by our own righteousness, we’re all hopeless. Even though in our eyes there may be a difference between us and others, in God’s eyes, we’re all at the bottom of the ladder. There just ain’t no diff’rence.

But the bad news is followed by really good news. It’s not up to us. It’s up to God.  Through his grace He can change our lives and we can spend eternity with Him.  The Message translates verses 23-24 this way, “Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners…and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity…He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where He always wanted us to be. And He did it by means of Jesus Christ.”

So what? How does this affect the way we live? Well, we live overwhelmed at His grace, constantly thanking Him for saving us. And we also live humbly.  If we’re all sinners in need of a Savior, there is no room for bragging or thinking we’re better than anyone else (v. 27). God makes the difference.  Do you need more thankfulness or, perhaps, humility in your life? Is there someone in your life who needs to hear the good news that God makes all the difference? How can you show Christ to them today?

OK, Fine! I’m Sorry!!

By Scott Armstrong

“Listen, my people, and I will speak; I will testify against you, Israel: I am God, your God. I bring no charges against you concerning your sacrifices or concerning your burnt offerings, which are ever before me” (Ps. 50:7-8).

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(Read Psalm 50:7-15)

I am very lucky to have a brother.  Since he is only two years younger, we had many of the same friends and many of the same interests when we were growing up.  We played together a lot and are still good friends to this day.

But obviously we had our moments of fighting, too.  And I remember as my mom broke up many heated wrestling matches, she would look at me and demand, “Say you’re sorry, Scott.”  Of course, as an obedient son, with true remorse in my heart at what I had done, I would grudgingly mutter, “I’m sorry,” and then wait for my mom to leave before making a face at my brother.

If you have a sibling, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  There are ways to say “I’m sorry” genuinely, and ways to say those words without meaning an ounce of them.  There are times we have asked for forgiveness and meant it and times when we just did it because it was what we were supposed to do.

This is a theme we have had twice in the past week.  “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13; Hosea 6:6).  In the psalm we just read, God is pleading again for obedience.  If I tell my brother, “I’m sorry,” and yet five minutes later do the same thing in order to irritate him, do I really mean it? God is dealing with the same thing.  So many of his people are praying to him or, in the Old Testament context, sacrificing bulls and goats, without ever having the intention of obeying him.  He desires thankfulness; he wants us to “fulfill our vows”—in other words, obey (v.14).  When we sincerely call on him, he will deliver (v.15), but he wants us to come to him in genuine humility and with a real desire to obey.

What has your relationship with God been like recently? Have you been serving him because you know you should or because you genuinely want to? Has your obedience come from your heart or merely been external? God wants us to obey him out of love and thankfulness for what he has done.  Pray with him right now.  That kind of relationship with him can begin today.

 

Leading Difficult People

By Dan Reiland

It’s probably true that the most difficult person I lead is me. 

That might be true about you too. 

But beyond that reality, there are those who seem to be genuinely unaware of the negative impact they have on others around them. And there are a few who appear to get a strange sense of satisfaction from creating problems and getting reactions from people. 

These difficult people might be a volunteer leader, a coworker, a staff member, even a family member. It can be almost anyone you are responsible for leading.

When you allow difficult people to “get away with it,” any environment can become toxic. 

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So how can we better lead difficult people and survive to tell the stories?

Let’s start with what doesn’t work.

5 common responses to difficult people that do not work:

  1. Avoid the person and the situation.
  2. Give in and surrender. Give them what they want, let them have their way.
  3. Allow the behavior to continue. You don’t give them what they want, but you allow the person to continue with negativity, gossip, etc.
  4. Pass the responsibility to deal with the person to someone else to handle the situation.
  5. Power up and conquer.

Scripture gives us insight to a better way:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

The context in this chapter starting with verse 9 is loving people. Verse 17 says “don’t repay evil for evil,” and vs. 19 says “don’t take revenge.” 

The passage provides in principle, the practical insight we need to deal with difficult people according to God’s heart.

It tells us how we should see people. Especially when you read verse 17, “be careful to do the right thing.”

Here’s a great practical summary:

  • • I am responsible for how I treat others.
  • • I may not be responsible for how they treat me.
  • • I am responsible for how I react to those who are difficult.

Set your heart first:

A) Difficult isn’t a disease.
Don’t run from difficult people you need to lead. It’s natural to recoil from difficult people, but it doesn’t help.

While it may be counter-intuitive to move toward difficult people, it’s important to accept that it’s part of your responsibility as a leader. 

It’s easy to love your friends and followers, but the real test of your leadership is how you influence those who test you. 

B) Forgive and let it go.
One of the most disheartening situations in ministry are leaders who become hurt, bitter and live with regret. 

This may primarily relate to the more extreme situations, but it still happens all too often. Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it’s always the best path.

This article will continue in the next post.