Tuesday, February 28, 2017

2017 Lenten Activities + Prayers - Day 1 (Ash Wednesday)


Almighty and everlasting Father, guide us throughout these forty days as we long to know and experience you in new ways. On our journey to the cross and the empty tomb, may we sense your gracious embrace and may we learn to put to death those things that separate us from each other and from you.

May we know your presence is always with us, may we know the power of your transformative love is within us, and may we know your grace as it fills us and surrounds us.

In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

LENT (2017) - A Rhythm of Preparation

This Wednesday, March 1st, is Ash Wednesday. Followed by Fat Tuesday (Madi Gras), Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the annual Lenten Season. 

The word “Lent” comes from the old English, “lencten," which means “spring." In the Christian tradition, Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a special period of fasting, repentance, personal study, moderation, and spiritual discipline. 

Of course, these activities sound very Christian and can be observed any time of the year, but the purpose of doing them during the 40 day period of Lent is to set aside additional and particular time for reflection on Jesus Christ - his suffering, his sacrifice, his life, his teachings and invitations, as well as his death, burial and resurrection. 

The 40 days of Lent are to be marked by contrition, embracing our finitude, and divine exploration. To begin the season of Lent, ash is sometimes rubbed on the foreheads of Christians during an Ash Wednesday service as a sign of our finitude (e.g., Ecclesiastes 3:20) and repentance (e.g., 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21).

Now, if you can do the math, you may know there are actually 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. This is due to Sunday's being excluded. Repentance is to mark the 40 days and celebration is to mark the Sundays leading up to Easter or Resurrection Sunday.

As with all liturgical seasons and practices, Lent can be legalistically observed. There are no specific biblical warrants to observe it and it should be observed out of choice, not any sort of obligation.  Elliot Grudem articulates it well, "...any special attention to the Lenten Season that honors God must include heart-level repentance and real faith, not external obedience to church tradition. So the Lenten Season and its encouragement to take an extended time to focus on the death and resurrection of Christ provides us with an opportunity to honor God...There can be a real value in marking this season, but only if done with a heart that seeks to honor God."

Lent is a time when Christians can annually connect with their heritage and their fellow Christians around the world. It's a unique opportunity to live out the "oneness" expressed in Christ's prayer in John 17 as we, together, journey through Lent, seeking a deeper connectedness to God and one another and asking if there are things in our lives that we may need to die to? Are there habits, thoughts, and patterns of living our lives that aren't consistent with the life God intended us to live? Is God inviting us into something deeper and more meaningful?

At the same time, Lent is more than just a season of preparation and repentance. Lent should also be a time for Christians everywhere to accept the life and grace that God extends to us -- discovering how to celebrate the cross and resurrection as God's definitive act of redemption in the world.

What Can I Do During Lent?
Some of the ways in which we can observe Lent include attending the Ash Wednesday service, practicing daily Scripture readings with meditations that focus on the themes of Lent, observing daily quiet times for prayer and meditation, practicing self-denial by through various kinds of fasts. 

While Lent is about giving something up (e.g., through fasting), it is also about putting something positive in its place. Lent has been a traditional time of helping the poor (almsgiving) and doing acts of charity and mercy. It’s a good time to examine ways in which we might get more involved. Giving alms can be done in more ways than just giving out money to people on the street. It can be done by helping your family, friends, and neighbors out of difficult situations, by being more generous to my siblings, by donating my blood to the local blood bank, by volunteering at a school, hospital, or homeless shelter, and so on…the list is endless.

Additionally, see HERE for Lenten Ideas for The Family.

Grace Church and Lent 2017
Like years in the past, Grace Church is providing Lenten Activities each day -- [GIVE], [MEDITATE], or [PRAY] during the week and [CELEBRATE] for each of the lending up to Easter Sunday. 

You will be able to find these Lenten Activities on our church Blog, Facebook and Twitter Pages.

Plus, feel free to listen to a short podcast message (from 2016) by me about Lent and Our Lenten Activities.

My friends, may this Lenten Season be a wonderful time of growth, reflection, repentance, and personal renewal for each one of us.

Grace + Peace,
    P. Heath

Lenten Ideas for the Family

Select a scripture verse that everyone in your family can work on together.  Simplify the language for younger children, or add extra verses for older children and adults.  Write the verse down in a place everyone congregates daily.  Work on the verse together throughout the Lenten Season.

Candle lighting is a common practice during Lent, similar to Advent.  You can use 6 white pillar candles, or purple candles.  Place the candles in a prominent place in your house where they will serve as a visual reminder of the Lent Season.

Schedule a special activity time for your family when everyone can be together.  Set aside 45-60 minutes of your evening to listen to some good worship music, or sing together, and play a favorite family game.  Make it fun & special.  Light candles, make popcorn, or do the activity in a family size fort!

Make a paper chain of 46 days (40 days of Lent plus 6 Sundays).  Commonly made of purple construction paper, with a black chain link for Good Friday, this activity is great for a variety of ages.  Each link can have a scripture verse, activity, thought, or just help count down the days to Easter Sunday!

Family Conversations- Dinner Table Ideas
Pick a day of the week that you all eat a meal together and discuss these topics over dinner. (FYI - These topics and discussion starters are aimed to help include everyone in the family, no matter their faith or lack thereof.)
Table Talk #1 Personal Reflection:
What is something in my life that I can work on during the Lent Season (i.e. being more thankful, better attitude about household chores, kindness toward siblings) 
Table Talk #2 Family Compliments:
Go around the table and give each person in your family a compliment 
Table Talk #3 Serving Each Other:
Pick someone in your family to help during the week.  Find at least 2 things you can do for them this week (i.e. do their chores for a day, help with homework, make their bed, pack their lunch, etc.) 
Table Talk #4 We are Special:
Go around the table and share your thoughts about this question: What is something special about our family? 
Table Talk #5 What does Lent mean to Me?
Share with your family what Lent has meant to you this year, what you have liked about it, and how God has spoken to you or been with you. 
Table Talk #6 Taking Care of God’s Creation:
How can we as a family do a better job of taking care of God’s creation?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Serve + Renew Community Via Local Schools

The local public schools provide an excellent means for the average Christian to serve his or her community. If your church wants to discover the real needs of your community and have a lasting impact through meeting those needs, start with the closest school, preferably public. If you want to follow the example of Jesus and extend God’s love to the disadvantaged, start with a public school. If you want to build relationships with people across the socioeconomic and racial spectrum in your community, start with a local public school. If you want to teach your children how to notice the needs of others where they live, start by getting involved at a local public school. If you want to know your community beyond your immediate circle of friends, getting involved with the public school is a great way to expand your circle.

The Best Thing You Can Offer:
There will always be financial and facility needs. But the best asset you can offer a school is not necessarily a new program or a new project—it’s people. (And, as far as starting programs go, people who are already involved and relationally connected are much better positioned to begin programs that actually make a significant difference.)

Here is a List of Ideas You Might Consider:

  • Coach or help coach a sport or run a theater program.
  • Offer to volunteer answering the phone and/or working the front reception area a couple of hours a week. 
  • Tutor a child. Every school has kids in dire need of someone who cares. This is also a fantastic connection with the families of students.
  • Join a team. Become a member of groups such as the PTA or sit on a school council. These committees provide meaningful connections with parents and other community members. 
  • Get technical. If you have some sort of skill set in technology, offer your assistance. There is always a need for computer skills, website help, and even help with the school network administration. 
  • Go places. Teachers are always in need of parents to chaperone field trips. 
  • Volunteer with a teacher. Teachers do a lot more than just teach kids. There is a ton of organization necessary, tests and homework to be graded, and a number of other things that require the teacher’s time.
  • Volunteer at the school library. Most schools are short on funding to pay someone to run their library, so they rely on volunteer help to keep the library open for students. Offer to check out books for people or stock them. Assist students or even offer to donate money for some needed books.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Grace + Peace - The Path to Unity

The "grace and peace" salutations in Paul’s letters are plentiful:

  • (Rom. 1:7)  To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • (1Cor. 1:3 ) Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • (2 Cor. 1:2)   Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • (Gal. 1:3)  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
  • (Eph. 1:2)  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • (Phil. 1:2)  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • (Col. 1:2)  To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
  • (1Thes. 1:1)  Paul, Silas and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.
  • (2 This. 1:2)   Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • (Titus 1:4 ) To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
  • (Philem. 3) Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

"Grace" or "grace to you" sounded like the standard Greek greeting, but, for Paul, it was jam-packed with theological meaning. And, on the other hand, "peace" was a Jewish blessing filled with weighty, theological significance -- "shalom."

Paul knew that many in these early church congregations were torn by factional strife. But he didn't say, "Grace to you Gentiles, and shalom to you Jews." No, grace was not just for Greeks, and peace was not just for Jews. God's desire was for the whole community to receive his grace and experience his shalom—not merely the absence of conflict, but the fullness of well being, harmony, wholeness, and life.

So Paul said, "Grace and peace to you." Paul addressed Gentile and Jewish believers together, as members of one body. He wrote in continuity with their cultural and ethnic backgrounds, yet pointed to a new, countercultural reality. He combined a Greek greeting and a Hebrew greeting to create a distinctively Christian greeting.

And it wasn't just the Apostle Paul…

  • (1Pet. 1:2) ....who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
  • (2Pet. 1:2)  Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
  • (Rev. 1:4)  John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne...

Today our society continues to be divided by race, class, gender, sexual orientation, national orientation, and, oh yes, politics. And within the church, we sadly mimic our culture. We are split over theological matters - Dispensationalism and Covenantalism, Calvinism and Arminianism, Complementarianism and Egalitarianism, Evangelicalism and mainliners.

Yet Paul would argue that our common identity transcends our differences. He would plead with us to treat one another charitably, to extend patience and grace, and to strive to make peace with one another. Indeed, our church congregations should be some of the few places in our society where conservatives and liberals (and everything and everyone in between) can break bread together and celebrate a common Savior and a common cause.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

One Anothering One Another

“One another” is two words in English, but it’s only one word in Greek: ἀλλήλων (ah-LAY-loan). It’s used in 100 times in 94 New Testament verses. 47 of those verses give instructions to the church, and 60% of those instructions come from Paul. Here are some of the "One Another" passages...
Unity. One third of the one-another commands deal with the unity of the church.
  1. Be at peace with one another (Mk 9:50)
  2. Don’t grumble among one another (Jn 6:43)
  3. Be of the same mind with one another (Ro 12:1615:5)
  4. Accept one another (Ro 15:7)
  5. Wait for one another before beginning the Eucharist (1 Co 11:33)
  6. Don’t bite, devour, and consume one another (Ga 5:15)
  7. Don’t boastfully challenge or envy one another (Ga 5:26).
  8. Gently, patiently tolerate one another (Ep 4:2)
  9. Be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving to one another (Ep 4:32)
  10. Bear with and forgive one another (Co 3:13)
  11. Seek good for one another, and don’t repay evil for evil (1 Th 5:15)
  12. Don’t complain against one another (Jas 4:115:9)
  13. Confess sins to one another (Jas 5:16)
Love. One third of them instruct Christians to love one another.
  1. Love one another (Jn 13:3415:1217Ro 13:81 Th 3:124:91 Pe 1:221 Jn 3:114:7112 Jn 5)
  2. Through love, serve one another (Ga 5:13)
  3. Tolerate one another in love (Ep 4:2)
  4. Greet one another with a kiss of love (1 Pe 5:14)
  5. Be devoted to one another in love (Ro 12:10)
Humility. About 15% stress an attitude of humility and deference among believers.
  1. Give preference to one another in honor (Ro 12:10)
  2. Regard one another as more important than yourselves (Php 2:3)
  3. Serve one another (Ga 5:13)
  4. Wash one another’s feet (Jn 13:14)
  5. Don’t be haughty: be of the same mind (Ro 12:16)
  6. Be subject to one another (Ep 5:21)
  7. Clothe yourselves in humility toward one another (1 Pe 5:5)
Here’s the rest:
  1. Do not judge one another, and don’t put a stumbling block in a brother’s way (Ro 14:13)
  2. Greet one another with a kiss (Ro 16:161 Co 16:202 Co 13:12)
  3. Husbands and wives: don’t deprive one another of physical intimacy (1 Co 7:5)
  4. Bear one another’s burdens (Ga 6:2)
  5. Speak truth to one another (Ep 4:25)
  6. Don’t lie to one another (Co 3:9)
  7. Comfort one another concerning the resurrection (1 Th 4:18)
  8. Encourage and build up one another (1 Th 5:11)
  9. Stimulate one another to love and good deeds (He 10:24)
  10. Pray for one another (Jas 5:16)
  11. Be hospitable to one another (1 Pe 4:9)