Lent is For Us

Lent is For Us

February 02, 2021

In just a little over two weeks, we will celebrate Ash Wednesday and begin the church season of Lent.  But what is Lent?  The dictionary definition says this:

noun: Lent

  1. the period preceding Easter that in the Christian Church is devoted to fasting, abstinence, and penitence in commemoration of Christ’s fasting in the wilderness. In the Western Church it runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday and so includes forty weekdays.

In remembrance of Jesus’ forty days of fasting and prayer in the wilderness as he prepared to begin his ministry, we spend forty days in preparation for the celebration of Easter.  Of course, as the dictionary definition pointed out, that is forty weekdays and not forty consecutive days because, traditionally, Sundays are each a “little Easter” and are not counted.

But what difference does it make?

Or, a better question might be, what will you do differently for these forty days?

In our modern era, the most well-known thing to do is to “give up” something for Lent.  For many of us who grew up Protestant, giving up something for Lent might be well-known, but it tends to be poorly understood.  To put it simply, giving up something for Lent, is a form of fasting.  We give up coffee, or chocolate, or buying takeout food as a substitute for fasting, or giving up food entirely, for forty days. 

But still, what’s the point?

The dictionary is not helpful.  The dictionary definition of a fast says, “abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink, especially as a religious observance.”  And, as I noted, simply saying that a fast is a “religious observance” is not helpful in understanding its purpose.  A fast is supposed to be a mechanism to draw us closer to God.  Usually, fasting and prayer are twins of a sort, or something that we would normally do together.  The point of fasting is two-fold, I think.  The first part comes closer to the dictionary definition that it is a part of a religious observance, in that it demonstrates our obedience to God and our desire to know God better.  But as the first twin of the pair, fasting also is a reminder to us to spend time in prayer.  As we fast, whether it is from food, from chocolate, from television, or whatever, we will be reminded to pray whenever we have a desire, out of hunger or out of habit, for the thing from which we are fasting.  Whenever we are hungry, we are reminded to pray.  Whenever we habitually reach for a chocolate bar, or for the television remote, we are reminded to spend time in prayer instead.  During our time of fasting, we fill the time we would have done something else, eating or watching television, etc., with prayer, Bible reading, devotional time, or some other thing that draws us into God’s presence and into a closer relationship with him.

So, do we have to fast during these forty days of Lent?

No, we do not.  While I have, I typically do not.  But, that said, Lent remains a season that is deliberately set aside for us to prepare our hearts, minds, and spirits, for the celebration of Easter.  It is a time for us to reflect, repent, and draw closer to God.  Fasting is just one way of doing that (and it’s a good one). 

As you read this, I urge you to use this season of Lent in the way that it is intended.  If you choose to fast from something, that’s great (but if you want to fast from food, please have a conversation with your doctor before you do).  But whether you fast, I hope that you will find some way of drawing closer to God.  Take the time to reflect, to repent, and to draw closer to God.  Find a good Lenten devotional and spend time, each day, reading it, reading the scriptures that it recommends or suggests, reflecting, repenting, and praying.

Rather than turning the calendar on Easter Sunday morning and saying “Happy Easter” to friends and family like someone crossing the finish line without running the race, I urge you to spend some time in preparation.  I hope that we will each take the time to run the race and spend the season of Lent drawing closer to God and preparing our hearts for Easter.

Lent is not something that God requires of us.  It is a gift that has been given to us.

When we take the time to draw closer to God and prepare our hearts during the season of Lent, Easter becomes even more meaningful and affects us even more deeply.

Lent is a gift.

What will you do with it?

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Ashes Mark the Beginning

crocusOur season of Lent begins this coming Wednesday, February 26th.

But what does that mean?

The season of Lent is a time that we have set aside on our church calendars, to remember and to reflect.  We know that Spring is coming.  And with its arrival, we will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection at Easter.  But in order to better appreciate Easter, to fully participate in, and to better enjoy the celebration, we set aside time to prepare.

If you think about it, we go through this sort of preparation for many things.  Of course, we could do things on the spur of the moment, but many things of importance in our lives deserve more thought.  We plan for vacation by buying tickets, reading travelogues, buying a good summer book to take along,  as well as sunscreen, snacks for the car or the airplane on our journey, and other “essentials” so that we are prepared, both mentally and physically, to fully enjoy our holiday.  We do the same thing was we prepare for scout camp, or for back to school.  We spend time and effort to prepare so that everything will go smoothly and be as enjoyable as possible when the time for those events arrives.

And since Easter is the biggest event of the church year (bookends with Christmas) we do the same thing.  For us to arrive at Easter as spiritually prepared, mature Christians, we shouldn’t try to cram all our preparations into one hurried trip to Wal-Mart the night before.  Instead, let us commit to a season or preparation so that we will arrive on Easter morning renewed, refreshed, equipped, expectant, and joyful.

Join us, so that we can journey together during this season of anticipation.

 

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

 

 

 


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A Season of Preparation

A Season of Preparation

As we begin the season of Lent, much like Advent, we are called to spend some time in reflection.  As a church, we spend 40 days remembering the gospel story that leads up to our celebration of Easter and, as individuals, we are called to do the same.  Easter is wonderful, but the thing that makes it a reason for celebration is contained in the story that leads up to it.  Of course, we will welcome you to our church at Easter even if you don’t, but won’t you also join us in the deeper meaning as we remember the story, study God’s word, and prepare our hearts during the season of Lent?

Our Lenten season begins next week with Ash Wednesday services here at Christ Church at 7:00 pm.  There will also be a weekly Lenten Bible study each Thursday at 7:00 pm entitled “Embracing Uncertainty” by Magrey R. deVega.  Please accept our invitation to come to these, and to our weekly Sunday worship as we prepare our hearts for Easter.  Of course, if you don’t live anywhere near Christ Church (in Alliance, Ohio), we encourage you to visit a congregation near you.

An Advent Invitation

advent-candles

We are, once again, entering the Advent Season.  Advent literally means the arrival of someone, or something, of great importance, but for us it is more than just marking the calendar to make note of his arrival.  We all know that our celebration of Jesus’ birth is on December 25th, but still, we deliberately set aside four weeks, and four Sundays, prior to that for special recognition and celebration?

But why?

We set aside time, because we are creatures of habit.  We get in ruts, we get stuck in our routines and habits, and we tend to live every week in the same pattern as the last.  If we allow ourselves to do that at Christmas, then Jesus’ birthday will get overrun with the busyness of the ordinary and ordinary is the one thing that it should never become.

Instead, we set aside Advent as a season of preparation just as we set aside Lent as a season to prepare for Easter.  For four weeks, we remember and reflect on the many aspects of the Christmas story.  We remember the shepherds and the angels, Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, Anna and Simeon, and finally, the arrival of Jesus.  Each of the characters of the Christmas story have something to tell us and we can be shaped by God as we learn from them.

I hope that you will join us on this journey of preparation.  Oh sure, you can just pop in on Christmas Eve and feel as if you’ve worshipped, but then you’ll have missed the greater message.  You could save a lot of time if you only watched the last ten minutes of Star Wars or Casablanca or Gone with the Wind.  But while only watching the climax of the story may inform you how the story ends, it doesn’t carry you along on the journey, it doesn’t inspire, it doesn’t stir your emotions or let you feel the passion of the story.

To say that you have experienced these films and been changed or shaped by them, you need to watch the whole thing, often more than once.  We watch them, and we imagine ourselves as a part of the story.  We take the time to put ourselves in the place of the characters and imagine what it would be like to live through the story as they did.  Good movies, and good books, do all those things to us and this is the story that surpasses them all.  This is the greatest story ever told.

And so, I invite you to join us on an Advent journey as we prepare our hearts for the arrival of the King of kings.  I hope that, if you can, you will commit yourselves to worshipping with us, not just on Christmas Eve, but every week during this sacred season of preparation.  Allow yourself to be drawn into the story, to experience its drama, its emotions, and its passion.  I promise that if you do, you will experience a Christmas Eve, and a Christmas, that will be more deeply meaningful, more passionate, more life-changing, than you will ever find possible by simply skipping to the end of the story.

Won’t you join us on this amazing journey?

Blessings,

Pastor John

Important Preparations

Christmas-tree

Advent isn’t about being warm, or having the house well stocked, or even about feeling festive on Christmas morning.

As we enter December, we are also entering the season of Advent.  Advent, much like the season of Lent before Easter, is meant to be a season of preparation.

But what does that mean?

Honestly, an easy way to think about it is the same way we think about preparing for many other things during this time of the year.  We know that winter is coming, and with it our usual mix of snow, ice, and cold weather.  And so, in preparation, many of us have spent time digging our winter coats, hats, mittens, scarves, and other things from the backs of closets.  We’ve stocked up on salt for the driveway and made sure that our snow shovels and snow blowers are ready to go.  Similarly, we have begun preparing our homes for Christmas by pulling our decorations out of the garage, attic, basement, crawlspace, or wherever else we’ve stored them since last year.  And we’re making plans to bake cookies, make candy, bake pies, and whatever else needs done to make us feel “ready” for the arrival of Christmas day.

Some of us, and I am one of them, need this time.  It is sometimes hard for me to feel festive at Christmas.  I drift more easily toward “humbug” than to “Ho ho ho.”  And so to prepare, I deliberately try to listen to Christmas music, and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and other classic Christmas specials that we grew up with, along with various Hallmark Christmas movies on television.

But Advent isn’t about being warm, or having the house well stocked, or even about feeling festive on Christmas morning.

Advent is about our heart condition.

Advent asks us to think about whether or not our hearts are ready to receive the Christ child at Christmas.  Advent asks us if we are ready to accept the greatest gift that God has ever offered to us.  And so, for four weeks, we are offered this season of preparation.  This is a time for us to consider the condition of our hearts.  To read, and to listen to the stories of scripture, to fellowship and sing with others and, just as we are preparing our homes, to prepare our hearts so that we will be truly “ready” for Christmas and the arrival of God’s greatest gift to humanity.

So consider this an invitation to the season of Advent.  Come with us on a journey together.  Let us spend time worshipping together, singing together, and studying together.  I invite you to be a part of something bigger than yourself.  Perhaps to pick up an Advent devotional and have a few moments of daily quiet time alone with God.

You wouldn’t dream of being snowed in this winter without coats and hats, shovels and salt, and a pantry full of food (with a few cookies and fudge).

You want to be prepared.

The Savior of the world is coming.  God’s greatest gift.

Please take the time to prepare your heart as well.

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

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