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.

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

 

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

 

Part of the Gift

By Charles W. Christian

One of my favorite Advent stories is about a missionary couple on the eastern coast of Africa. They were waiting to go back to the United States, their home country, after having served for over twenty years and impacting two generations of people in the village where they were assigned.

They were temporarily waiting in a location many miles inland from the coast until their arrangements were finalized for them to return to the U.S. for Christmas and for retirement.

One morning during the season of Advent, a few days before they were to fly out, there was a knock at the door.  A young man, the son of a family they had known during their entire time on the African coast, greeted them.  He was holding a small box that contained a gift that he told them could decorate their tree as a reminder of his family’s love for them.

“Did your family travel with you?” asked the missionary.  He knew they were one of the very few families in the small village that had a vehicle.  “No,” said the young man. “I walked.  I got rides when I could, but mostly I walked.  I left my village shortly after you took the train here a couple of weeks ago.”

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The couple was shocked.  “You didn’t have to walk all this way to give us this gift!” they said.  As much as we appreciate the ornament, we would have treasured it just as much if you had mailed it.”  The young man then replied, “The long journey is part of the gift!”

As we make the long journey through Advent toward the celebration of the birth of our Savior, we are reminded of an even longer journey: the journey of the Incarnation, when “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message).

May our hearts be filled with anticipation and gratitude as we walk together toward the Savior and the new kingdom He brings.

Prayer for the Week:

God of hope and promise, be with us throughout this Advent season, and draw us ever closer as we journey together toward the stable and the birth of your Son, our Savior. Amen. (From John Birch at Faith and Worship)

This article was originally posted at: Holiness Today

Why We Wait

By Charles W. Christian

“They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength…” (Isaiah 40:31, KJV)

The Season of Advent is about waiting; not a passive waiting, but the kind of waiting we see in this passage from Isaiah: an expectant waiting.  If there is a “fun” kind of waiting, it is this kind!  As Christians, we do not just sit around tensely awaiting bad news. Rather, we are people who eagerly wait for the best news of all: the fullness of the presence of Jesus Christ.

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Advent, like all seasons of God-centered rest, is a reminder that God calls us to wait so that we can be prepared for whatever He is about to do next.  In the Gospels, for instance, Jesus is baptized and lauded by the voice of the Father, and is then “cast into the wilderness” by the Holy Spirit for a time of fasting and focused rest.

During this period of rest, Jesus is overcoming temptation and preparing for His next steps. When His wilderness journey comes to an end, Jesus emerges ready for the next aspect of ministry in step with God the Father’s pace and not at the pace that the world demands.

Likewise, as we enter the season of waiting for the beginning of the Christian New Year (Advent), we are called to restfulness, preparation, and expectation. 

Can we begin to put the past year behind us and to enter into a time of dedicated rest? Can we refocus our hearts on the fullness of the Christmas season – the fullness of the presence of Christ leading us into new adventures?  In the words of the great theologian Jurgen Moltmann, Christians are “people of Advent:” people who live their lives truly expecting God’s leadership and movement into the future.

Let us allow the Holy Spirit to create such an Advent in us, as families and as churches.  This will set the tone for a truly Christ-centered Christmas season.  More than that, it will open our hearts to whatever God is preparing for us in the days ahead.  May we find rest, refocus, and refreshing as Advent moves us toward Christmas.

Prayer for the Week:

Oh Immanuel, God with us, truly in this Advent season we celebrate that you are not hidden in some faraway cloud, but you chose to be with us in the blur and mystery of our lives.

In the midst of lists and rush, you are with us as a song that echoes in our minds, as the light of a candle, as a card from a friend. They are signs of your presence.

We turn to you this season and pray that you would birth joy and healing, blessing and hope in us.
Let something wonderful begin in us — something surprising and holy.

May your hand be upon us. Let your love fill us. Let your joy overwhelm us.
Let our longing for you be met on a coming holy night: Immanuel with us once again.

Amen. (Written by Rev. Jerry Chism)

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today

 

Mourning or Miracle?

By Scott Armstrong

“While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples. Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment. When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.”But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region” Matthew 9:18-26.

Where do you see yourself in this story? Each character has a different past, a different need, and different reactions to the circumstances around them.  Maybe you identify with the hurting woman who desperately longs to touch Jesus.  Perhaps you see yourself in the ruler who is not worried about himself as much as the ones around him. What great faith he had in order to believe Jesus could bring his daughter back!

Personally, I identify most with the mourners (vv. 23-24). Not because I am regularly sad or anything.  Just because I am very realistic and usually want to help people out.  You see, in Jesus’ day, the mourners served a very important purpose.  When there was a death in the family, the relatives would gather together and call professional mourners to help with the grieving process. In fact, it was required to have several professional women mourners at even the death of a poor family. These musicians and mourners would weep and wail and sing dirges and, although it seems weird to us today, they would help the family and community release the feelings of despair and hopelessness they were experiencing.

So if I am a professional mourner, I am doing what I am supposed to do here in verse 23. It’s my job to help these people in the most difficult time of their life. Then, just when I have really gotten into character, this guy named Jesus comes in and says the girl is merely asleep.  Sorry, but I have to laugh.  Is He crazy? I know what I see. The girl’s dead. There’s no hope.  Let’s help the family through the grieving process.

But Jesus’ vision is different. Miracles happen when He’s around. Sick women are healed. Dead people are raised to life. When He comes on the scene, transformation and healing take place.

The world is full of death, hopelessness, and sickness.  So, what will your reaction be to the despair around you? Will you go around life like it is business as usual? Or will you pray, plan, and expect that God will do a miracle in the toughest of situations?