A Word on Self-Denial and Fasting

With the start of Lent this week, here are a few quick thoughts on self-denial and fasting.

Like almost any discipline, fasting and self-denial can be misused in various ways.[1]  They can be done without discernment or wisdom, such as fasting from food when you’re not physically healthy. They can be done merely out of ritual and without meaning. They can be viewed legalistically where we use our performance to get something we want from God. All good things are prone to misunderstanding and misuse. Our hope in this guide is that any self-denial through fasting is done meaningfully, purposely, wisely, and graciously.

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What is Lent?

“Each year the season of Lent asks us to embrace a spiritual gravity, a downward movement of soul, a turning from our soul-sufficiency and sinfulness. In such quiet turning, we are humbled and thus made ready to receive from God a fresh and joyous grace.” Bobby Gross[1]

Lent, not to be confused with lint (that fluffy stuff in your dryer vent or jean pockets), is a season within the Church calendar preparing our hearts for Easter. Similar to how Advent each December allows us to meditate on the incarnation leading up to Christmas Day, Lent gives us six weeks to consider Christ’s humility in the wilderness temptation and his human trials as we move towards Good Friday and Easter. During this season, the Christian follows Jesus by pursuing humility in our own life, believing he must come before us. As John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

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What is the Liturgical (Church) Calendar?

“The Church Calendar—also called the Liturgical Year— seeks to redeem our time and space through the seasons of Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost. Through readings, prayers, songs, fasts and other practices, these seasons help to reorient our hearts and minds away from the false stories of the world and back toward the one true story of the Bible—the Christian story.”[1]The Village Church

“Over the centuries, the church has fittingly sacralized [set apart] time by means of the liturgical calendar with its practices and celebrations, and we can fruitfully appropriate the pattern in our personal discipleship and devotion.” Bobby Gross[2]

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Lent Reading & Fasting Guide

“Lent invites us into practices where the Gospel is felt in our bodies—in hunger, in longings that go unsatisfied, in wants deferred. And these aren’t just “intellectual” realizations. My growling belly has stories to tell me about who I am and who I’m made for.” James K.A. Smith

Next Wednesday, the season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. This time in the Church Calendar carries us to Easter and the Passion Week. Our church has provided a Daily Reading and Weekly Fasting Guide. The daily reading plan focuses on Easter, and then during Passion Week it shifts to the events of Christ’s life from the Gospels.

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HOW IS JESUS OUR IMMANUEL (GOD WITH US)?

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:21-23)

Each Christmas or Advent season we sing about Jesus our Immanuel. God with us. We find comfort in the incarnation behind Christmas. God’s stepping down to Earth to be with us by becoming one of us in Jesus. But how is Jesus really God with us?

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Why Good Christmas Songs Matter

In my last post, When Christmas Loses Its Cheer, I tried to remind us that the message and meaning of Christmas offer a deeper joy than the magic Christmas. For those walking through trials and hardship, the Christmas season doesn’t have to be a letdown if it causes us see the beauty of Christ more clearly. In this post, I want to simply point to a few Christian hymns that echo how Christ’s glory and grace shines brighter in the midst of darkness and sorrow.

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When Christmas Loses Its Cheer

Most of us love the Christmas season. Yeah, it’s over-commercialized and stressful, but there are so many things to enjoy: delicious desserts, classic movies and songs, gatherings with family and friends, fresh snow, giving and receiving gifts, festive décor inside and outside the house, family traditions, new memories, and a host of local activities. I love Christmas, and so despite some cautions I might give in this blog, I’m more like Buddy the Elf than the Grinch.

But despite the joys making the season bright, can we be honest and admit there are also sorrows and trials at times making the season dim? Some years your Christmas might be memorable while others it’s forgettable. Sometimes the Christmas season disappoints. Haven’t you felt like Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas? Maybe in that year, or in a string of years, it feels like Christmas just doesn’t work for you. Maybe while everyone else is enjoying the season and dancing to jingle bells it all rings hollow to you.

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How Good Doctrine Makes For A Good Christmas

Christmas is a spectacular holiday: the decorations, the classic movies and songs, the excuse to inhale a massive amount of desserts, giving and receiving gifts, and the fellowship of family and friends. If all we had were these festivities it would be a fun holiday, much like July 4thor Halloween. But, Christmas has something more to it. What makes Christmas special isn’t just the “magic” of the season but the meaning of the story.

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Darkness. Then Light.

The first words of Holy Scripture describe the story’s opening drama of creation, creation by God speaking forth light into the dark abyss. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…and darkness was over the face of the deep…And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light’” (Gen 1:13). Bruce Waltke recognizes the Bible’s theme here and expresses it as “God irrupting into chaos to establish his rule over everything.” The creation account emphasizes the God who speaks light into darkness and breaks the silence with the power of his voice.

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Making the Most of Advent

“[Christmas] means not just hope for the world, despite all its unending problems, but hope for you and me, despite all our unending failings.” Tim Keller

“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” C.S.Lewis

“Christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.” Dr. Seuss

Have you ever gone on vacation intending to use that time to grow spiritually only to head home afterwards realizing you neglected your spiritual walk? Vacation is a time I’d like to spend more time in the Word but the opposite usually happens. My normal rhythms are interrupted. The pace is fast and our schedule is full. There’s so much to see and do. Even during vacation it’s easy for your time alone with the Lord to get squeezed out. While the week ends up being a lot of fun, you arrive home feeling spiritually weak because you’ve neglected the most important thing.

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