Monthly Archives: March 2014

Last night we did nothing…

Last night at Youth we took a break. For almost two hours we did nothing but talk, eat pizza and play volleyball. There was a Lenten lesson written, the practice of fasting to discuss, which would have segued neatly into setting up our next big event and service project, 30 Hour Famine. But instead we didn’t.
As a church and as a Youth ministry we talk a lot about Sabbath. It is a frequent theme of Sunday school lessons, bible studies and youth discussions. But last night I realized that, even if no one else will, we have to put our money where our mouths collectively are on the importance and immediacy of God’s rest.

Our Youth are coming off of a busy week in church life alone, with two Missions fundraisers in a week span, spending not only extra time at church but also outside work preparing for our Talent Show fundraiser, promoting the event and selling tickets. All of this on top of the usual madness of school, homework, tests, soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, chorus, ACT, SAT, AP, College Prep, piano recitals, guitar lessons, track, swimming, eating, breathing and sleeping. Oftentimes with a distinct lack of the latter.

There are always more lessons to teach. God and Scripture and Life go on and on and there is always more to learn and discover, always one more adventure to go on, one more service project to do. Sabbath can’t wait till everything else is finished. It’s no longer Sabbath then (it will also never happen).
Even if no one else will, the church has to demonstrate to youth and young adults that a good and holy life contains a balance of work and rest. It means sometimes we get one less lesson here or there. One less chance to discuss and grow and all the important things we try to cultivate in our Youth Group times. But that’s the point. To answer God’s call to rest will sometimes mean leaving things unfinished. Maybe a little less polished, a little less perfect. It will mean leaving some doors closed and some opportunities unanswered.

But if we never learn to say no we will grow into a kind of slavery to work. If we can never say no then all the good things in our lives, like work and relationships, hobbies or even worship and service to our communities, can rise up and consume us. The tiniest bite at a time.
So even if everything else won’t or can’t stop to rest, we will. Because no matter what we say or teach what we fail to demonstrate in our church life is not real. If we burden ourselves, drives ourselves to the edge of exhaustion for one more lesson, even on Sabbath, we are still failing to truly teach.

Advertisements

Scripture in Lent Part 2: How do we read this thing?

20140326_113956

Last time we took a more up close look at the process that gets us from Oral Tradition to printed bibles. This time we are going to look at the different ways we study scripture.

The first way we read Scripture is devotionally. This is often what we mean when we talk about having a quiet time or daily bible study. This is when we read the bible specifically to hear what God might be speaking to us. We focus on God’s commands and God’s promises so we can carry those things with us throughout our daily lives. To read devotionally its often helpful to set aside a daily and regular time of silence or worshipful music and prayer. When you read devotionally you aren’t just wanting to understand but to be transformed, to have a conversation with God.

The second way we read Scripture is to understand a specific section or book of the bible. This is very important. Scripture is God’s word but God has chosen to mingle and inhabit that word in human words which comes from a specific time and place. What a 1st century Pharisaic Jew turned Christian with strong Grecco-Roman influence (Paul) or a Judean prophet of the 8th century (Isaiah) might mean by a phrase is not always obvious to us. We need to read for understanding much the same way we would try to understand something like Shakespeare. We try and get our heads into their worldview so we can understand their phrases and stories the way they were meant. When we read this way we often focus on reading whole books through, looking at questions like genre, history and language. To do this we often go to outside sources like histories or commentaries where specialists answer some of these complicated questions for us. When we understand the book and where it comes from it is easier to hear what God might be speaking through it.

The third way we read Scripture is to understand a specific issue or question we might be struggling with. This can be a very difficult approach. We might use tools like indexes to see where certain topics are referenced throughout Scripture. When we read this way it is important we gather the sometimes contrasting answers of Scripture (Pray for those who persecute you v. Eye for an eye) to get the full view of how God and God’s people have answered these questions. We also need to see those verses and passages the way they are situated in a chapter or book of scripture. But it is also important we remember that some parts of Scripture are more authoritative for us as Christians. The life and words of Jesus are the core of what we believe and follow, we should weigh different voices in Scripture with this in mind. We also generally take the New Testament to be more authoritative than the Hebrew Scriptures because it builds upon and even changes some of the earlier traditions. This process can be complicated but it is also, often, the main place where practice meets theology and we put our faith into action.

 

So why do we have these three different lenses for reading scripture? Its because only all three together can sufficiently honor what Scripture is. In the bible we see God’s word and inspiration coming together with human authors in real communities with real needs at a specific moment in history. If we read the bible only for devotional purposes we will neglect God’s choice to use these very real human situations to speak into the world. We will misunderstand God’s Word if we can’t understand the human word that delivers it. Thankfully God didn’t choose to speak for all time through a theology textbook. God gave us letters and stories and laws and songs and visions, written by real authors to real communities for specific reasons. Paul clearly didn’t expect his letters to become Scripture. But God chose them, with their unique historical moments, to deliver divine Word to us.

 

So what are your thoughts on reading Scripture? Do you see a sense of reading that isn’t covered here? (Other than entertainment, Sarah) Do you have a regular bible study plan? What helps you to better understand Scripture? Leave a question or comment or send me an email and let me know!

What does it mean to be Baptist? Part 1

What does it mean to be Baptist? Surprisingly this answer can be quite difficult to parse out if you’ve been born and raised in what I call “Baptistland.” You’ve never needed to name what is uniquely Baptist about you or your church because those things are a seamless part of “the way things are” or “church.” Fish wouldn’t have a word for water.

But unlike Fish, it actually does matter that we understand the legacy of Baptistness. Whether you’ve been part of the fold your whole life or are an immigrant in a strange land, you not only have a name but a community, an identity and an inheritance of spiritual gifts and faithful ancestors who have gone before you.

So what does it mean to be Baptist? One way to identify Baptists is by the unique practices they share as a church. Baptists are literally named for their most obvious practice, believer’s baptism. Baptists believe that while your community and family will have an impact on your spiritual life, your decision to join the church and your relationship with God is something that each believer has to come to in keeping with their own conscience.

Even if it sometimes feels that way, if you are a member of a Baptist church it isn’t because your grandfather was, it’s because you made a confession of faith of your own. Many other denominations practice infant baptism (which can have its merits), where an infant or child is baptized at their parent’s prompting. Their church commits to helping the parents in caring for them and raising them in the faith family (which is awesome) and they are automatically members of their church. This practice has a strong showing in the history of the Church but Baptists believe that this model of baptism and church membership is not the one seen in the New Testament. (For the same reason Baptists believe in full immersion as the preferred way to Baptize).

Another part of Baptist life are what we call local autonomy and free association. These are fancy ways of saying each local Baptist church takes its cues from God and Scripture directly which is then put into practice by leaders from that church community. Baptist churches are often members of many associations, national groups like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship or Southern Baptist Convention or local associations like the Yates Baptist Association, but these associations are not in charge of the local church. In fact, it’s the other way around. In Baptist church’s authority starts with the local congregation and moves up. The Fellowships, Conventions and Associations takes their cues from the churches and offer resources and networks for churches to be better equipped to serve together. This is why most decisions in local Baptist churches are made by congregational vote. Baptist believe that God’s prompting is best heard by the faith community listening, discussing and deciding together. Baptist ministers are also ordained by the local church, sometimes in cooperation with other churches but ultimately in the hands of the individual congregation.

By contrast some denominations have an organizational structure that all their churches are a part of. Every individual Catholic, Anglican or United Methodist church is under the authority of their denominational leaders. Catholic churches answer to Bishops, Cardinals and ultimately the Pope. Methodists are organized under District Superintendents, Bishops and the United Methodist General Conference. While they can disagree with some of the things they are told and participate in the decision making process in certain ways, each individual church in these denominations has to largely abide by what comes from these bodies.

Baptists also believe strongly in the authority of Scripture. While every Christian denomination takes Scripture to be important, Baptists hold it in especially high regard as the source for our faith and practices. Baptists are often reluctant to practice things not specifically found in scripture (even if they’re beneficial) and discussion is often centered around interpreting scripture’s view on an issue rather than offering outside opinions. Baptists also generally encourage practices like verse memorization and personal and weekly bible studies. You can find all of those things in other churches but they just tend to be more prominent for Baptists.

These are just a few of the things that make Baptists distinct. I’ll be swinging back around to this topic soon to talk about the history of Baptists and the diversity of Baptist churches. If you are a Baptist, or especially if you are a member of another denomination, and you see something that doesn’t sound right about your church or denomination leave me a comment and let me know!

Scripture in Lent Part 1: What goes into a Bible?

Alongside Prayer, Bible Study is at the heart of everything we do. We take our words, our songs, our practices and our beliefs from its pages. It is our encouragement in trial and a distressing challenge to our boredom and complacency. The season of Lent offers us a time to grow in our study of Scripture. Wherever you fall, be it an avid daily reader of Scripture or you haven’t seen your bible since the Winter Retreat, there is room to grow.

Today we want to look at what the Bible actually is and what processes went in to putting the printed Bible in our hands. So where does it come from?

-The Oral Tradition: Nearly every story or passage of Scripture was first passed on by word of mouth, repeated from one generation to the next. This is true of the Old Testament, where much of its pages weren’t actually written down until the 8th century BCE and later, as well as the New Testament, which of course began as the stories of Jesus told and retold by the disciples. Remember, its only relatively recently in history that most people could read!

-The Written Tradition: But the stories of Scripture are important. They needed to be preserved and they needed to be portable so they could be shared from community to community. So the words were written down. The apostles and the students of apostles wrote down the things they had heard and believed and shared them with other Christians (most of this happened from about 50 AD until some time in the 2nd century AD)

-Canon: Canon, literally meaning “measure” or “rule”, is the body of books we agree to make up Scripture. There are other texts out there written about Jesus but we don’t accept all of them as Scripture (some make crazy claims like Jesus was a ghost without a body or that Jesus blew people up with eye lasers as a child, no joke). The early churches got together and made specific lists of books which were to be called “Scriptures.”

They used criteria like age (the closer to the original time the better), apostolic connection (they looked mostly for books written by the disciples or close students of theirs) and their own understanding of Jesus’ teaching (after all they were only a generation or two of leaders away and had learned from the disciples what they learned from Jesus). Together with prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit they used these criteria to set out the NT canon. The final canon process didn’t come until the 4th and 5th centuries but the majority of books were pretty well agreed on by then.

-Compilation: We don’t have the original documents that make up the Bible. We don’t have a pristine, fresh copy of Romans or Matthew. Over time paper deteriorates. Many of the earliest church documents were lost to persecutions of the first few centuries. What we have instead are a variety of different copies from lots of different times and places. Scholars take these various pieces, sometimes nearly whole groups of books like the Codex Sinnaiticus or the Dead Sea Scrolls, sometimes just a sentence or two from one book, and join them together using the oldest and most authentic versions they find.  These produce manuscripts of Greek and Hebrew which are as close as possible to the original documents (which is very very close, the bible is one of the most well preserved and most copied ancient documents in the world).

-Translation: If compilation leaves us with big manuscripts of Greek and Hebrew (and most of us don’t read both or either of those), we need translators to get a final copy. Translators are scholars of Christianity, Judaism, Greek, Hebrew and ancient languages who try to convey the original sense of the Gk. or Hebrew words into English.

There are two main kinds of translation, literal translations and paraphrases. Literal translations focus on getting the word for word or phrase for phrase meaning of the original text into English. These are translations like the NASB, NRSV and NIV. Paraphrases focus on broad meaning over specific words, like the Message or New Living Translation. These translations try to convey the complicated original phrasings in a way that is clear and readable in English. Personally, I prefer a strict translation if you can read it and understand it. The NRSV and NASB are usually very accurate to the original words. This is important because even a translation can be skewed by the translator’s bias.

-Helps: There is one last phase that goes into most bibles. Most of us have more than just a raw translation of the Bible. We also have footnotes, endnotes and even essays, charts and maps that help us to understand the bible more clearly. These can be very very important. Oftentimes footnotes point you to other verses that reference similar topics (or show you where the author is referencing an earlier piece of scripture). An index might help you find verses about a topic. A map might help you understand the very geography centered stories of Paul’s missionary travels or the Exodus wandering.

These are also very very dangerous. Most translations show the bible well enough, meaning that they haven’t skewed it too much in any one direction. Most major translations will be just fine. But footnotes are not scripture! Oftentimes bibles don’t even list their authors and editors of their footnotes. They might be a renowned biblical scholar or a gifted and wise preacher or they might be a random person off of the street with an unknown agenda. The very literal “Left Behind” reading of Revelation is actually the result of one of the most popular early footnoted bibles, the Scofield Reference Bible. Many readers had never used the footnotes before and had difficulty distinguishing the extremely literal minded and agenda heavy comments of the author from the Scripture itself.

So what are the three questions you should ask about your bible?

1) Is it accurate?

2) Can I read and understand it?

3) Are the notes and comments helpful and accurate?

If you aren’t sure send me a text or email, drop by or leave a comment. These are the most important factors in bible choice and you absolutely shouldn’t be without one. If you need one let me know ASAP and we’ll make it happen.

We’ll check in again in a few days to talk about why the bible is so important and the various ways people read it.

Praying through Lent: Prayer Station

Prayer, along with the study of Scripture, are the core of everything we do as Christians. Every act of worship, every act of service, every time of fellowship flows out of these two things.  So it is no wonder that we should refocus ourselves on Prayer during the season of Lent. This leaves us to ask “how should we pray?”

And the answers are many. Paul commends us to “pray without ceasing.” And if we are going to pray in many times and many places it stands to reason that we would also need different ways to pray. For many of us, our prayers are silent, casual and nonphysical. This kind of prayer is important. This is everyday walking, driving, in class, at work, in the shower kind of prayer. It’s the running conversation with God. We need this.

But there are other dimensions of prayer that we often neglect. We tend to separate out our bodies, our minds and our souls when we think about daily life. We assume it doesn’t matter whether we sit or stand or speak when we pray because those are functions of our bodies and prayer comes from the soul or the mind.

But Scripture doesn’t support this clean break of body and soul.  When God creates Adam it is only when the body and the breath (or spirit) of life are joined together that Adam is a living being. Christianity itself is fundamentally about bodies, as we look to a God who takes on a body, lives and suffers and dies in a body and then is resurrected in a body (still carrying the scars of his life!)

What does it say about prayer then if bodies are so central to who we are? The way we feel, the way we present ourselves and arrange ourselves in prayer matters. This doesn’t mean that we do away with our silent conversations with God but it does mean that we need other tools to bring to our lives of prayer.

Just like there are learning styles there are styles of prayer and they engage us in different ways. This Lenten season we are creating prayer stations for use at home in daily prayer. Each of our Youth is beginning with four items to help lead them through prayer.

The stone calls us back to the ebenezars and altars of Genesis. Hold the stone in your hand as you thank God for the blessings in your life. We begin our prayer in thanksgiving for the many things God has given us in our lives.

The water reminds us of our baptism and the way we are joined with other Christians in communities of faith. Dip your fingers into the water water and pray for your church, the churches in our community and the capital C Church, of all Christian believers in the world. They come from many different worldviews and places but through baptism and God’s Spirit we are still one body and one family.

The burlap is like the sackcloth and ashes worn by devout Israelites for mourning and repentance. Rub the rough material between your fingers. Notice the discomfort and unpleasantness of it. Take time to offer up to God the sins and failures in your life and pray for strength and transformation to turn away from them.

Finally the sand reminds us of the wilderness and exile stories. Stories where God’s people were called into times of waiting or preparation. First offer up to God the things that trouble you. Pray for patience but also ask God to intervene. We need to be able to be honest with God with the things that anger and upset us. That too is part of prayer. After that pray for God to prepare you for where He is leading you. God has a vision and a call for all of us. Pray for God to help you see that vision and equip you to follow it.

2014-03-17 16.26.43

These are only four items of many which could rest in a prayer station. In the photo you’ll notice that I also have a glass cross. That cross reminds me to thank God and pray for the many amazing teachers and mentors who have helped prepare me for ministry. It also reminds me to pray the amazing classmates and peers I have in ministry who are out serving in all sorts of churches and ministries all over the world. The mountain dew bottle isn’t just recycling either. It’s a physical reminder of my Lenten practice that sits over my desk and frames my prayers.

Hopefully this will be the start of a prayer practice that can carry you through and beyond the Lenten season. As with our other Lenten practices, we encourage families to ask questions and participate alongside our Youth in this season of prayer. Use your imagination and find suitable items to add to your prayer station. I will include a few ideas below.

-Candles have been a part of prayer in Christian practice for the entire history of the Church. Fire reminds us of strength and purity. It is also a reminder of the Holy Spirit (as we saw it at Pentecost). If you are comfortable (and parentally allowed), consider adding a candle to your prayer station.

-A notebook is a common sense addition to a prayer station, allowing you to write down the people and things you are praying for.

-Instrumental, choral or worship music could also be a focusing tool to add to your prayer station.

If you have a cool idea for a prayer station addition or a comment or question about prayer feel free to leave it in a comment or drop me an email (text/call etc)

Lent: Looking out on a Crucified World

During this season of Lent we spend much time meditating on the Cross. From Ash Wednesday to Good Friday we will have our eyes fixed on Calvary’s distant mount, as each day brings us closer to the central event of the Christian faith. But for all its prevalence, for all of the retelling its easy to misunderstand what exactly we see at Golgotha.

In most of our churches there is a single cross fixed in a place of great prominence. It might be a golden table piece or a wooden construct suspended from the ceiling. Sometimes in front of our churches or on a hillside we might see three crosses, the cross of Christ joined by those of the two “bandits.”
But this is misleading. We talk about the crucifixion like it was a surprise, like it was a deviation from the norm. We imagine that Jesus (or if we are being fastidious, we include the two bandits) was the only person in history to be crucified. Like Rome conspired to create some novel singular event which could take on religious significance.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The depth and power of the Cross of Jesus is not that crucifixion was rare but in that it wasn’t. Crucifixion was horrifyingly monstrously common. Jesus did not hang on a cross by himself or as part of a trio but instead he joined a field of dozens or hundreds or even thousands of crosses. One of as many as a hundred thousand Jews to be executed by Rome during its reign.

crucifixion-small

Rome was a vast empire with a powerful, well trained, well equipped army. But that army was woefully insufficient to control the huge empire they had amassed. Instead Rome ruled the world through breath taking, gut wrenching fear. The Roman army was a vanguard that conquered distant lands. But then they moved on to the next war zone, leaving the maintenance of the Roman police state in the hands of small garrisons or local militias.

Because of this Rome lived in constant fear of uprisings and rebellions. An organized, widespread uprising could rip the Empire apart. So they created the Pax Romana. Rome would enforce a bloody, fearful peace on the world. As long as taxes were paid and all respect and honor was paid to Rome, its Caesars and its gods, their conquered neighbors could live in some cruel parody of peace.

But the moment payment faltered or the smallest slight or insult was offered Rome would retaliate with awful overwhelming force. Long before Iraq, Rome was unveiling shock and awe on the world. And rather than smart bombs or bunker busters the primary instrument of Rome’s shock and awe, the weapon that enforced the Pax Romana, was the cross.

When the high priest Caiaphas speaks to his peers about Jesus John takes it as prophecy

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.’ (John 11)

But Caiaphas is being horrifically literal. If Jesus stirs too much discontent Rome might send in an army to “maintain peace.” The Jewish people were intimately familiar with that kind of “pacification.” Magdala, the homeland and namesake of Mary Magdalene, was subject to two such horrific invasions by the Roman army, once in 52 BCE and again in 4. These mass crucifixions and enslavements would have been recent history to Jesus and his contemporaries (they were devastated again in 67 AD).

Most of these punishments came in response to “banditry,” which was a Roman catch all not only for thieves but also (depending on your worldview) either Jewish freedom fighters or anti-Roman terrorists. But Rome didn’t particularly care about punishing the specific individuals involved. They would crucify all the surrounding villagers just to make a point.

This brings us back to Jesus and his Cross. Jesus didn’t come down to do something uniquely messianic. Instead in Jesus God came down and joined the world where it was, in this case hanging on a Cross. Jesus took his place on Calvary to hang in fellowship with the bleeding, fearful crucified world.

The message of the Cross is not only that God died for our sins but that when we are at the lowest, bloodiest, most beaten and broken down God is still with us. Immanuel is not just in the manger but on the Cross. The heart of God, open to all the pain and fear and suffering of a people broken down beneath sin and death and the corrupt powers of the world, didn’t stand by but came alongside us. And when death and sin and the powers had spent themselves in violence and shame and all the tools they use to silence and destroy humankind, God’s resurrection spoke the final words over the world’s power. Enough. No More. In the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus God blunted the swords of death and violence. The new last word is life. Unbreakable, unbeatable abundant life.

The crucifixions didn’t stop. Rome didn’t fall. But their power was unmasked. God has sided with the crucified and stands with them still. The cross itself transformed from a symbol of death to a symbol of victory and life.

This Lent we turn our eyes to the crucified world. We look for those who are persecuted, suffering and beaten down because Jesus is still among them. We speak truth to evil and to power, denouncing the crucifying powers in our world today. And we repent for those times we are found amongst those powers, when we profit or take pleasure in the suffering of others. And together we look forward to the last Sunday, when God’s inbreaking kingdom at last abolishes death and violence alike.

Only Dust: Ash Wednesday Reflection

“Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.”

Ouch. The Lenten season begins with a body blow. You are dust. It comes to us from Genesis but it reads like Ecclesiastes. We are dust. Vapor. A wilting flower. A breath. It’s humbling. Maybe even humiliating.

And Lent is the season of humility. We take 40 days to humble ourselves before God. We are reminded of our imperfection. Our sinfulness. Our failure.

But this is a liberation. We live in a world that is ever proud. We are always perfect. We are always rising. We are always better than and greater than and moving upward. Even if it hurts us or scars us or takes the life out of our bones we smile and talk about how we are reaching for the stars. Always reaching for one more accolade or accomplishment. One more promotion. One more A. One more degree or publication or win or trophy.

We are terminators. Machines sent from the future to overachieve until we bleed excellence. We are, all of us, latent presidents and CEO’s and doctors and star athletes, each of us so brimming with potential and perfection and potential perfection that we shine like stars.

But for 40 days a year. For one ash-stained day in late Winter, we breathe. We bleed. We cry. We wear our dust nature on our foreheads. And we remind others and most importantly ourselves that we are dust. For one shining moment, down in the dust and the dirt, we are freed of being perfect snow-flakes. We are freed from being “the chosen ones” and “the future” and “tomorrow” and we are dust.

And this is good news. Because God didn’t come into the world for terminators. God didn’t suffer and die for “chosen ones” or “perfect snow-flakes.” God lived and bled and died for dust. And this world shaped dust in which we live does not rest on our shoulders.

God has inhabited the dust. God has invaded achievement and perfection to rescue the dust. So breathe. For one day, for one season you are allowed to be only human. You are allowed to be imperfect. You are allowed to be hurt and name the places you have fallen short. As we lie in the sackcloth and ashes of our humanness God is in control. God who will wipe away every tear. God who will bend the arc of the universe towards a coming kingdom of justice and peace. God who took on dust and humanness and all the wounds we inflict on one another has already had the final word.

Welcoming Lent: The Next 40 Days

This evening, or for many of our fellow Christians, this morning, we will observe Ash Wednesday, the solemn first day of the season of Lent. Like the rest of the Church Calendar (which we follow when we observe seasons like Advent and Lent or holy days like Resurrection Sunday, Good Friday or Pentecost), Lent is a season which draws us into a story. Advent, perhaps most obvious of any season, draws us into the hopeful expectation of Israel, anxiously awaiting God’s savior who will arrive and bring God’s love and peace into the world. Advent also calls attention to our own hope and expectation, as we await the return of the savior to bring God’s Kingdom to Earth.

Lent draws us into a different story. Lent is the season of dust and ashes. “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.” Lent is a season of smallness. It is a season of repentance. If in the Advent story we are faithful Israel in expectation, in Lent we are sinful Nineveh who falls down and repents of our sins and unworthiness. We are faithless Israel who has built up idols while Moses was on the mountain. We are the elders of Israel who are desperate to be ruled by less than God. There is a harsh character to Lent.

But this is not the only story of Lent. We are also following in the footsteps of Elijah and Moses who fasted while God prepared them for kingdom work. We follow Jesus who fasted for forty days and was tried and tested. Lent is a story of preparation and communion with God, letting go of weights and burdens and learning to run fully towards God’s kingdom.

It is in the spirit of both of these that we enter into Lent. Naming our sins and our failures in repentance, falling on God’s mercy to heal us and lift us up from the dirt. But also casting aside those things that hinder us, learning to present ourselves to God without baggage and burden. In light of these things it is a practice of the Church to focus on spiritual growth during Lent. We repent of the sins that cling to us, we set down the burdens and distractions which are not sinful themselves but have become something we rely on instead of or in addition to God, finally we add practices that help us grow in our faith.

Many of our Youth at HVBC are committing to join with the Church in our community and our world in pursuing these practices during the season of Lent. We have discussed dozens of different spiritual disciplines they can engage in and many of them have chosen to commit to practicing one or more of them through the forty days of Lent. We will be discussing the experience and supporting each other through weekly accountability. If you are a youth who was not able to join us on Sunday we encourage you to consider taking on a practice. If you are a parent of a youth we encourage you to come alongside and participate with us, by supporting your youth’s chosen practice through prayer and encouragement or even joining in yourself.

For the duration of Lent we will be revisiting these practices and themes during our youth group meetings, check back here to see further reflections on Lent as we move together through this season.

 

Finding a Lenten Practice

Below is a list of practices that we discussed during our time together. These aren’t the entirety of Lenten practices just suggestions and common options. Here are a few guidelines to help you find the right practice for you:

1) Choose something which seems difficult. If you see something and say “I couldn’t live without this” and it’s not God, air or a minimum of food and water it might be a candidate. If you see something and say “that’s easy” it likely isn’t a good choice.

2) Pick something you could actually do. Committing to pray 4 hours a day is a great goal but if you know that isn’t going to be possible for you, pick something else.

3)  Use good judgment. God is not going to fault you for doing what you need to do. If you choose to forego your cell phone don’t ignore your parent’s call. If you forego internet use you still need to do your homework that’s online. You all are smart enough to distinguish between Netflix versus homework or instagramming your friends versus answering a call from a parent.

4) Try to balance positive and negative. When we give something up during the season of Lent we are doing so to move closer to God. If you are abstaining from a food consider saving or collecting money to give to a charity that combats world hunger. If you are refraining from soft drinks consider donating to a clean water group. If you are trying to control anger try to replace it with acts of kindness. Through the prophet Isaiah and his disciples God said (Isaiah 58)

3 ‘Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
and oppress all your workers.
4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

Match your fast or offering with kindness and giving and justice in the world around you.

A Selection of Lenten Practices

Repent of lingering sins in your life which damage your relationship with God and others:

Anger Lust Harsh language

Laziness Greed Pride

Violence Disrespect Carelessness

Minimize or Remove things which are unnecessary and can hold you back from God:

Sugar Caffeine Sweets

Television Video Games Internet

Limit phone use to essential calls

Don’t buy unnecessary things

Go without makeup

Give away clothing

Limit the your wardrobe during Lent

Dress Simply

Add practices that help you grow in your faith and help you better show God’s love in the world:

-Read your bible daily

-Read books about faith or people of faith

-Spend time in silence or stillness every day

-Practice restraint in conversations so that others have a chance to speak

-Take on extra chores in your home.

-Volunteer in your community

-Worship through music every day

-Take time every day to consider one piece of media you consume (a song, a tv show, a book) and consider whether its themes and messages are positive or negative and whether it helps you grow as a person.

-Learn about an issue in the world or your community and find ways to get involved.

-Finish your homework and commitments early in the week so you can rest on Sunday.

-Learn about world events and pray for them.

-Learn a short repeated prayer and pray it throughout the day.

-Pray every morning and every night.

Whatever you choose I encourage you to find partners in accountability, either amongst our youth group or in friends and family (or both!).