Luke 9: 23-24 Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.
Lent is a forty-day period before Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday.
In the days when fire was vital for cooking and heat, a major part of housekeeping was keeping ashes under control, during times when serious problems arose that housekeeping chore would often be left undone and so a person who was in mourning or suffering distress would often have ashes on his/her face. Eventually putting on ashes became part of the mourning process. Ash Wednesday is about mourning for the sin which makes the sacrifice necessary.
Lent is a season of soul-searching, a time for reflection and taking stock. In the earliest days of the Church, lent began as a time of preparation for Easter, and by observing lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness.
The last three days before Lent are sometimes called Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), Shrove Tuesday, or Carnival. This stems from the tradition of using up the household foods that would be abstained from during lent. (Fatty foods, meat – Carnival is farewell to meat)
How can we use the 40 days of lent to prepare our hearts for Christendom’s most sacred holiday?
What do we do during the 40 days to shake ourselves from business as usual to a more spiritually attuned life?
I. Self-denial. The Christian faith is supposed to be about imitating Jesus who said some radical things. We tend to want to imitate Jesus in ways that appeal to us; we pick and choose the parts of His life we will emulate based on our own sense of what is really important.
Jesus did fast and pray throughout His ministry. He did deny Himself, He did sacrifice all. Would we be willing to go beyond the comfortable level of self-sacrifice we normally observe in order to more closely imitate Jesus; in order to prepare our hearts for Easter and the rest of our lives?
II. Self-examination. In the Lenten season, self-examination is crucial. An individual’s response to the call for purposeful reflection on one’s need for God is an important factor in choosing a discipline with which to actively observe Lent. For some, fasting is a means of self-examination and denial; yet, fasting is not an appropriate discipline for all people. The purpose of a Lenten discipline is to strip away those things which clutter one’s life or impede one from being in relationship with God. It is also a time for people to experience and reflect on the sufferings of Jesus, in light of personal sin and unrighteousness.
Christianity is about more than outward behavior, it is about the condition of the heart. We need to prepare our hearts for Easter and the rest of our lives by setting aside this time for self-examination and then where necessary, repentance and change.
III. Selfless giving.
As Christ fasted and prayed in the desert for forty days, we try to be mindful of Christ for the standards by which we live our lives, with goals of self-giving and suffering love. With such high goals, any programmatic response may seem to fall short, yet an attempt to incorporate prayer, meditation, and useful action in the path of Christ into our lives, is invaluable. Jesus wants us to give ourselves to prayer this Lenten season and throughout our journey with Him.
If people want to temporarily give up certain things for Lent as a sign of love for their Savior, that’s fine. But what Christ is really concerned about is what’s in our hearts. On Ash Wednesday, we begin that long walk to the cross, where we see just how serious and terrible our sins are. But there we also see how wonderful and deep our Savior’s love is for us. The road doesn’t end there, but at the empty tomb, where Jesus rises from the dead to prove that all of our sins have been forgiven. May God bless us as we begin our Lenten Journey. Amen!
I Thessalonians 5:16-18: 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
When some think about thanksgiving they generally think about 3 things: Family, Food, and Football! WHAT? Yes, I’m serious. When they think of that 4th Thursday in November, those are the first things that pop in there! It is traditionally a day of being thankful for the stuff we have!
And that is the world’s perspective of thanksgiving. That could also be the reason why it is limited to a once a year event and to those things that are tangible.
In this passage, Paul tells us that true thanksgiving is a life of daily thanksliving. Paul tells us in these 3 verses to remember a few ways we can apply thanksliving in our daily life.
I. REJOICE ALWAYS ……..V. 16
Rejoicing is not always about being happy! It is about being joyful! People are naturally happy on some occasions: Birthdays, Anniversaries, heading to Disney World, are all things that make us happy! Joy is not natural, but rather supernatural.
Christian’s joy is not dependent on circumstances. It comes from what Christ has done. It is constant – does not fade away! The lesson for the church is for us to be joyful! Because it is through our joy that we are able to allow ourselves to praise the Lord in good times, and not so good times!
II. PRAY WITHOUT CEASING……..V. 17
Why is it important to pray without ceasing? It is the only way to cultivate a joyful attitude in times of trial.
It does not mean we should be on our knees 24/7!!! But that our hearts should be willing to be in constantly recurring prayer, growing out of a dependence on God. That means lifting our hearts to God whether words are uttered or not. But also allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us in all situations.
Lesson for the church is prayer is our most powerful but the most unused resource. Often, we use prayer to manipulate God and easily give up when God doesn’t answer the way we feel is right. The primary purpose of prayer is NOT to change ourselves, NOT to change our situations, but to RESPOND BACK to our Creator. It seems basic, but that’s what it’s all about—building our relationship with God.
Now Paul is about help us experience that Rejoicing Always and Pray Without Ceasing pave the way for Giving Thanks!
III. GIVE THANKS……..V. 18
People of God thanked Him for everything! Why should we give thanks to God? Everything we have, our family, job, house, finances, friends…they are all blessings given to us by the Lord. All those experiences we gain, all that is good, and even some of those things that can test us…He is present in them! Because even our problems are temporary parts to God’s larger plan for our spiritual well-being.
Lesson for the church is to ask God to forgive us for ignoring Him in our life-by not giving Him thanks all the time. We need to make thanksgiving and thanksliving a habit in our lives all the time. We should not wait for a special day, but make it a daily practice.
Therefore, we should start thanksliving because it is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus. Thanksliving is appropriate for every circumstance of daily life. It can abound in any aspect of human life. It will activate the joy of the Christian life. Because true thanksgiving is a life of daily thanksliving. Happy Thanksgiving and Thanksliving to you all!!!
Twice in the last month or so the Holy Spirit has showed up in worship and interrupted my sermon.
The first time occurred in the Branch service some weeks ago. Brad, as he usually does at the beginning of the service being the worship leader, greeted us gathered there in his usual friendly and down-to-earth way. And he prayed as he usually does, inviting God to be present with us and to open our hearts to experience His power and glory. Only that morning, he confessed he felt a specific sense that there were those present who needed healing. This is interesting, because all week I had been thinking the same thing. I had felt a prompting to pray for healing in worship. In fact, I asked God that morning to show me some sign or confirmation that this was from Him and not just my idea. Well, I certainly got it! We continued on after Brad finished his prayer, singing a few songs. Then came the time of prayer. I shared my own discernment about the need to pray for healing, and so we prayed for one another. I began by asking if there were any who would like prayer. Hands immediately raised. We gathered around each of these people, laying our hands on them, interceding. Different people prayed at different times. Tears were shed. One person confessed that if we had not done this he would not have come forward for healing. We prayed for four people that morning. It was a simple thing, but there was a distinct sense among everyone that all of it was being orchestrated by the Spirit.
The second time came this past Sunday in our Classic service. I was preaching on Jesus’ parable commonly known as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” in Luke 15. At the beginning of the sermon, I noticed a woman sitting in the back who I had never seen before. Glad she was there, I continued. About three fourths the way through, as I was preaching about “the older brother” in us, this woman raises her hand and shares that she has a confession she would like to make. To make a long story short, she bravely comes forward and shares her story with the whole congregation, specifically how she is on her way to see her mom with whom she has a broken relationship. This might be extraordinary in its own right, but what was truly amazing to me were the parallels between her story and Jesus’ parable that I happened to be preaching from that morning: broken relationship with a parental figure, inheritance, gone for many years, an older sibling. This woman truly was a prodigal at this point in her life who just happened to stop in to our church to find some gas money to go see her mother. All of this had to be the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. We prayed for her, and I wrapped up my sermon quickly. We spent some time with her after the service, and we helped her. People were moved by the experience.
Now in both these situations things did not go according to plan. In both these services I had to let go of my sermon specifically in some way. In the first, I abbreviated my sermon because of our extended time of prayer. In the second, I was unable to land the sermon the way I had planned. Now I am not complaining. When God wants to change your plans, it’s always a good idea to let God rather than fight God. But it’s not an easy thing to do. It has been said before that the Holy Spirit does work from time to time outside of our plans. When I think of the Holy Spirit’s work I often think about what Jesus says to Nicodemus in John 3:8: “The wind [same Greek word used for Spirit by the way] blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” The Spirit works in the ordinary, doing supernatural work that we often don’t see in our lives and in the world. We should never underestimate the Spirit’s presence in normal every day life. However, the Spirit does work in “wild” ways too. In fact the Celtic Christians called the Spirit “the Wild Goose” for this reason. He will always glorify Christ and move within the bounds of Scriptural truth of which He inspired the writing, but His means of doing so may surprise us. I believe the Spirit works outside of our plans from time to time, because we are often so hard pressed to push our own agendas. No matter how well-intentioned, we sometimes don’t leave room for God to work his plans. So, as uncomfortable as it is, it is a grace when the Spirit takes control in even wild ways.
I rejoice that we are seeing the Spirit move in our church, even disrupt in our church. He is forming us to be an ever more faithful community, obedient to God. Moving forward this leads us to a willingness to surrender our expectations, an openness to hear the voice of God through Scripture and prayer, and a willingness to obey the Spirit. I see him working in our various feeding ministries, among our kids, in our youth, in our bands, in our Sunday School classes, in the one-on-one discipleship relationships happening, and at our Dinner Church worship services. The Goose is on the loose!