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Resources

A Reading Plan for Lent

Chances are you just started a Bible reading plan just 7 weeks ago or so. If you’re still trucking along with that, good for you.

If not, and you need a reset, try out this Lent devotional, From Dust to Glory: Readings and Reflections for Lent.

It will take you through the second half of Mark’s Gospel in 40 days and other select Scriptures that correspond to various Lenten themes.

I hope you enjoy it. And if you do, why not share it with someone else?

Download From Dust to Glory for FREE!

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Resources

Lent Devotional: From Dust to Glory

Lent begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday. There are many great resources and devotionals available to use throughout this period. Last year, I wrote a little devotional book for our church, From Dust to Glory: Readings and Reflections for Lent, and I want to share it with you.

Most devotional resources are heavy on reading the author’s thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, and I have benefitted from things like that in the past. The church needs clear, articulate writing that encourages and challenges people. But this little booklet has a different aim. In the introduction, I explain what the book is and how to use it:

This is a devotional guide for Lent. Each week focuses on a different biblical theme: repentance, humility, lament, suffering, enemies, and death. A short devotional reading will introduce you to these themes. Each day of the week, there will be a Scripture reading related to that theme and also a passage from the Gospel of Mark, each accompanied with reflection questions. The readings from Mark begin in chapter 8 and will, successively, take you to the end of Mark in 40 days. Because Sundays are celebrations and anticipations of Easter, there will be a short Scripture text focused on resurrection and renewal each Sunday.

There is not a devotional article to read each day for a very specific reason: this guide is meant to get you into the Scriptures. The temptation with devotional books is to spend more time reading someone else’s thoughts on the Bible rather than the Bible itself. Devotional readings are wonderful servants, but bad masters. Be mastered by God through his word, for this is where the true power for transformation lies. The reflection questions are there to stir your mind and heart. Please, don’t feel confined to answer just those questions or even answer them at all. They simply “prime the pump” and, sometimes, only cover a single aspect of the passage. Let them stimulate your thinking, feeling, praying, and acting. Let them, also, merely be your servant, but not your master.

I pray this is a helpful resource to you as you pursue Jesus this Lent. To God be the glory!

Download From Dust to Glory: Readings and Reflections for Lent.

Categories
Life

From Dust to Glory: Readings and Reflections for Lent

Lent begins next week with Ash Wednesday (February 10). If are a pastor or church leader and have not already, I would encourage you to consider observing Lent this year.

There are many great resources and devotionals available to use throughout this period. This year, I wrote a little devotional book for our church, From Dust to Glory: Readings and Reflections for Lent, and I want to share it with you.

Most devotional resources are heavy on reading the author’s thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, and I have benefitted from things like that in the past. The church needs clear, articulate writing that encourages and challenges people! But this little booklet has a different aim. In the introduction, I explain what the book is and how to use it:

This is a devotional guide for Lent. Each week focuses on a different biblical theme: repentance, humility, lament, suffering, enemies, and death. A short devotional reading will introduce you to these themes. Each day of the week, there will be a Scripture reading related to that theme and also a passage from the Gospel of Mark, each accompanied with reflection questions. The readings from Mark begin in chapter 8 and will, successively, take you to the end of Mark in 40 days. Because Sundays are celebrations and anticipations of Easter, there will be a short Scripture text focused on resurrection and renewal each Sunday.

There is not a devotional article to read each day for a very specific reason: this guide is meant to get you into the Scriptures. The temptation with devotional books is to spend more time reading someone else’s thoughts on the Bible rather than the Bible itself. Devotional readings are wonderful servants, but bad masters. Be mastered by God through his word, for this is where the true power for transformation lies. The reflection questions are there to stir your mind and heart. Please, don’t feel confined to answer just those questions or even answer them at all. They simply “prime the pump” and, sometimes, only cover a single aspect of the passage. Let them stimulate your thinking, feeling, praying, and acting. Let them, also, merely be your servant, but not your master.

I pray this is a helpful resource to you as you pursue Jesus this Lent. To God be the glory!

Download From Dust to Glory: Readings and Reflections for Lent

Categories
Life Ministry

Why You Should Consider Observing Ash Wednesday and Lent

This year, our church is observing Lent and we’re kicking it off with an Ash Wednesday gathering. I wanted to write a brief post on one reason you and/or your church should consider observing Ash Wednesday and Lent (and why you should not).

Your church should consider observing these church traditions if it makes sense missiologically. By that, I mean if observing these traditions sparks gospel conversations with outsiders and builds bridges with the lost, it might be a good thing for your church. Living as missionaries in our culture demands that we become like those we are trying to reach. In other words, we learn how the people around us speak, dress, eat, converse, recreate, relax, celebrate, persuade, discuss, debate, etc. We engage with them in these practices as they do without compromising the gospel (and by extension, of course, our holiness, morality, etc.). In other words, we compromise everything but the gospel itself.

The classic text on this idea in Scripture is 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. There Paul says,

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

When Paul says, “I have become all things to all people” he means he lives like a particular culture, but not at the expense of the gospel. Why? He does “it all for the sake of the gospel.”

Ash Wednesday and Lent are, for good reason, primarily associated with the Roman Catholic Church. Here in the Capital Region (Albany area), only about a quarter of the total population professes some kind of religious affiliation. Of that group, around 70% identify as Roman Catholic. Because of this, basic missiology says that observing Ash Wednesday and Lent could be a contextual “win” for us. It is well known that Lent for some Roman Catholics (either individually or congregationally) can be legalistic or ritualistic. We want to do it differently. If we do, it will naturally build a bridge to the nominal and lapsed Catholics (and others) in our community and, by God’s grace, spark conversations so we can graciously talk about a Christ-centered and gospel-driven Lent.

Observing Ash Wednesday and Lent is a prime opportunity to zone-in on lamenting our sin, repenting of sin, looking to the cross, and anticipating Easter. It is a season of intentional and focused spiritual formation, and that’s valid reason to observe. We’re trusting God to do a work of grace in individuals and as a church. However, in the bigger picture, our spiritual formation should serve as a gospel witness to nonbelievers. Ash Wednesday and Lent can be tools to shape us. But they can also be tools to help us be good missionaries.

So consider your context. Is it a heavily Roman Catholic area with many nominal church attenders? Are there many former Roman Catholics in your area who have fond memories of Lenten practices?

On the other hand, if you are in an area where there are no Roman Catholics, you’ll need to consider what’s best for your context. No matter where you are, if you want to observe Ash Wednesday and Lent to give your congregation a “cool worship experience,” because “it’s hip to be ancient,” or to provide them another box on the church calendar checklist, then you had better think twice.

In the end, remember that everything we do is “for the sake of the gospel.” That was Paul’s motivation, and it should be ours, too.

Categories
Ministry

Ash Wednesday at Grace Chapel

Wednesday, February 18, is Ash Wednesday. This marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 day period before Easter (46 including Sundays). The word Lent comes from a Latin word meaning “spring,” which comes from an earlier Germanic word meaning “lengthen” or “long” (since the days get longer in spring). At Grace Chapel (a non-denominational, Protestant Evangelical church), we’re encouraging our congregation to observe this season—not to merit favor with God or even because it’s hip to be ancient. We want to take advantage of these valuable observances so we can dive deeper into the gospel. That’s it. It’s really all about Jesus.

Observing Ash Wednesday and Lent are not commanded in Scripture. Therefore, we’re free to observe them or not. However, there’s a few reasons you may want to consider observing them. Ash Wednesday and Lent can provide us the opportunity to:

  • Connect with the historical church. Our faith is not born in a vacuum. We aren’t the first of our kind. We have descended from a great community of faith which has gone before us, of which Ash Wednesday and Lent have been significant traditions.
  • Be confronted with reality of death and our need for Jesus. How often do you think about death? Ours is a death-averse culture, but we must face the reality that we are all going to die because of sin. In the midst of this bad news, however, the good news of Jesus’ death for us is our glorious hope.
  • Freely experience sorrow and lament. Individually and corporately, we make little room for mourning our sin and brokenness. This season provides a ripe time and space for that.
  • Fast with anticipation. We fast (abstain from food or other things) to deny temporal pleasure in order to pursue the ultimate pleasure of knowing, loving, and obeying Jesus as we long for his kingdom to come.

So to kick-off Lent, our church will gather this week on Ash Wednesday to lament and confess our sin, meditate on the glories of the gospel, and worship God.

Our Ash Wednesday gathering will be an interactive time. One aspect of the gathering that some Protestant Evangelicals may balk at is what Christians have historically called “the imposition of ashes.” This is when you receive ashes on your forehead in the shape of a cross. Why would we do such a thing? Isn’t that meritorious? religious? legalistic? ritualistic? It could be, but it doesn’t have to be. Ashes and dust in Scripture are symbolic of the brevity of human life and picture repentance (e.g. Gen. 3:19; 18:27; Job 30:19; 42:6; Matt. 11:21; Luke 10:13). The ashes are simply a tactile and solemn reminder that we are finite creatures and death looms over us all; they are drawn in the shape of the cross to remind us that in the midst of this bad news, there is infinite hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let me be up-front: the imposition of ashes is not a sacrament, and observing Ash Wednesday or Lent can’t save us. At the same time, even our repentance can’t save us. God alone saves us through his Son Jesus! Repentance is a response to God’s saving work, and while Christians are by no means required to participate in Ash Wednesday or Lent, we are praying that God might use these rituals to drive our congregation to repentance and faith in Christ. Who knows whether or not, in his grace, God will use these instruments to spur renewal in the hearts of individuals and our congregation as we anticipate the glory of Easter. Of course, this should be the normal rhythm of the Christian life! However, Lent provides us with a special time to zero-in on this as a church community. This approach to Ash Wednesday and Lent is undeniably Christ-centered and gospel-driven.

So if you are in the Capital Region, consider joining us this Wednesday, February 18 at 7pm at Grace Chapel. Even more than that, whether you join us or not, consider how you might take advantage of these forty days to repent of sin and fix your eyes on Jesus.