40 Days of Lent

Find your own spiritual path

 

During Ash Wednesday services on the first day of Lent, many United Methodist pastors will invite their congregations “to observe a holy Lent: by self–examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self–denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word” (from the 
). While you may be aware of this season leading up to Easter, you may wonder how you might “observe a holy Lent.”

There isn’t one correct way – we are each encouraged to find our own method of confronting our sinfulness, remembering our mortality, and giving thanks for the gift of salvation we receive through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Fasting

One of the more common practices is to give something up for Lent. Some abstain from chocolate, social media, shopping, or something else through the season. This is a religious practice known as fasting. We fast to reorient ourselves away from the distraction of those things, and back toward God.

Bible reading

Another way to reorient your life toward God, is to focus on devotional practices like Bible study and prayer during the season. Spending extra time in Bible reading and prayer is a great way to observe Lent.

Prayer

  

In the busyness of our everyday lives, prayer can sometimes get squeezed out. Lent is a wonderful time to intentionally work toward finding more time in your life for prayer. Enriching your prayer life is a great way to spend Lent. 

Service

Another way to observe a holy Lent is to take on a new way of serving. Throughout the forty days of the season you can adopt a new habit of volunteering in the community, making special financial gifts to service organizations, singing in the choir, or participating in a small group.

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His Discipline

Most of us have had at least one week when everything seemed to go wrong. The kids knocked over the apple dsiplay at the grocery store; the plumbing decided to back up; the furnace dies; the car had a flat (with the Brownie troop inside); and the stomach flu topples the entire family.
These events don’t always come in groups, but even one at a time they can be mildly irritating and sometimes downright exasperating.
Then there are  the more serious events that enter our lives-seemingly without reason. The ones that slice our very roots: perhaps a lost job or maybe a transfer to another city. Maybe there isn’t enough money to go around or it’s the extended
illness or the end of a relationship.
Do you ever wonder about the calamities that meet us head-on in everyday life? Do you ever ask as I do, “Why me Lord?” Are daily catastrophes just happenstance or is there a reason behind them?
God disciplines us for our own good, that we may share in His holiness (Hebrews 12:10). What a difference it makes in the atmosphere of our homes if we face those calamities with an attitude of joy. Not a fake, pasted on joy-but a joy that comes from knowing that he is bringing us closer to a sharing in his holiness-through discipline.
So the next time those rough winds sweep through our homes-let’s rejoice! It won’t be long until we can lift our hearts and laugh in his sunshine…in his holiness.
 
Author:Diane Head


Commit to God

What are we to commit (to trust) to God?
 
Ourselves – Psalm 22:8
    “He trusted and committed himself to the Lord, let Him save him.
     Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.”
 
Our Burden – Psalm 55:22
    Cast your burden on the Lord [release it] and He will sustain and uphold you;
    He will never allow the righteous to be shaken (slip, fall, fail).
 
Our Souls – 1 Peter 4:19
    Therefore, those who are ill-treated and suffer in accordance with the will of God must [continue to] do
     right and commit their souls [for safe-keeping] to the faithful Creator.
 
So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
   
Our Way – Psalm 37:5
      Commit your way to the Lord;
      Trust in Him also and He will do it.
 
Our Cause – 1 Peter 2:23
        While being reviled and insulted, He did not revile or insult in return; while suffering, He made no 
        threats [of vengeance], but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges fairly.
 
Our Works – Proverbs 16:3
        Commit your works to the Lord [submit and trust them to Him],
        And your plans will succeed [if you respond to His will and guidance].


Why Do We Pray? We Pray to Know God

 
deepsest“What should I pray for? What do I really want?” Here the Bible challenges us to ask a different question. In fact, what we pray for is not even the most important question. It is why we pray.

We Pray Because God is Worthy of Our Prayers

As it turns out, praying is not primarily about us at all. It is all about God.

We pray because what we really want, above all else and in the deepest places of our being, is to know God. That is our heart’s desire, whether we know it consciously or feel it deeply. That does not mean that we should not pray for God to heal a sick child or to heal a broken marriage or to bring peace to a conflicted part of the world.

These prayers are worthy; we are right to pray them. Yet the supreme end of all praying is to know God, however worthy our requests are. God is our Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer. Everything we are — our ability to move and think, our capacity to love, our inclination to pray — depends on God. He is like the air we breathe, like the food that feeds us, like the water that keeps us alive. C. S. Lewis wrote,

God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on… God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

We try to satisfy our deepest longings with lesser things, however good those things are. But it is all in vain. God Himself has given us those things to enjoy, but He never wants us to mistake them for what is ultimate and essential. Thus, as Lewis observed, God withholds the happiness and security we want so that we won’t settle for anything less than God Himself.

When our relationship with God is foremost to us, all other loves, longings, and pleasures actually increase. Lewis writes:

When I have learned to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards that state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.

We pray, then, not to get something but to know someone, like a lover who relishes a relationship for its own sake and not for what he can get from it, such as pleasure or security or popularity. 
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Phillipians 4:4-9 NIV

Phillipians 4:4-9 NIV

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.



Do Not Worry: One Day at a Time

Read: Matthew 6:25-34

It’s easy to fall into the worry trap, especially in times of trial. We often get out ahead of ourselves and ahead of God as we attempt to predict the many ways a trial may pan out. A typical human response to bad news tends to move automatically to a state of worry and anxiety. God clearly tells us:

Do not be anxious about anything. — Philippians 4:6

We must view our circumstances the way God commands us to.

As a young couple with a newfound faith in Christ, Craig and Amanda were excited to be welcoming their firstborn into this world. Then during a routine ultrasound midway through their pregnancy, they received news that their unborn son’s brain and skull had not formed, a condition referred to as anencephaly. Faced with whether or not to continue the pregnancy, they chose to entrust the length of Noah’s life to God. Noah went to be with Jesus when he was three days old. From the world’s perspective, Noah’s parents had much to worry about. They chose, instead, to cherish each moment they had with their son, living purposefully one day at a time, even before he was born.

Throughout the pregnancy, Craig and Amanda kept a record of all the things they did with Noah — baseball outings, trips to the zoo, a vacation to Arizona, picnic lunches. They collected artifacts and pictures as they lived one day at a time, creating a beautiful scrapbook that told the story of Noah’s brief, yet well-lived and well-loved, life.

In Matthew 6:25-34, we read of God’s loving care and provision — even for the birds — as he asks us,

Are you not much more valuable than they? — Matthew 6:26

Jesus tells us, “Do not worry.” He promises to take care of us.

What trial are you facing today that warrants your trust in God? Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33,

Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

God wants you to live — fully live — one day at a time, relying on Him to provide all your needs, physically and spiritually. Trust in Him.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. — Matthew 6:34

Lord, help me to live one day at a time, resting in the promise of Your love and provision for me. Thank You for caring about the details of my life, big and small. Help me to seek You first in all things. Amen.


10 ways to improve your prayer life

Moses went to a mountaintop to hear God. Jesus fled to the desert.

But for many Christians, their most regular place for praying is whatever pew they sit in on Sundays. Work, children, chores and other duties make stopping for prayer seem a luxury.

In today’s culture, some even joke that that Charles Wesley’s quote “pray and never faint,” refers to passing out from an overloaded schedule.

“We forget to intentionally make space for prayer,” said Betty Kay Hudson of First United Methodist Church in Lancaster, S.C.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Souls, like vines, tend to grow wild and weak when untended.

No matter the season on the church calendar – Advent, Lent, Easter, Pentecost — or all of the times in between, prayer is the gasoline that fuels Christians.

“Prayer is the catalyst,” says the Rev. Jeffrey Kersey, a United Methodist minister in Lexington, S.C.

Prayer, like tennis, takes practice to become accomplished. Spiritual guides and sages, pastors and other church members are filled with advice and counsel.

Here’s some of that wisdom condensed into 10 tips about prayer:

You are worthy.

Do not feel guilty about the quality of your prayer life, or fall victim to doubts and despair about your worthiness to talk to God. Each of us has a spiritual gift. So remember John Wesley’s words: “In Christ we gain more than in Adam we lost.”

The more you pray, the richer your prayers become.

To deepen your prayer life, don’t be a slacker. Like anything in life, to become good at prayer you must be disciplined. Just as running is an exercise in physical fitness, prayer is a spiritual discpline.

Prayer is active.

Prayer involves action; namely being attentive to God’s voice in your life. Listening for God means stopping and sitting still. It means paying attention to what God may be saying to you at any point in your life.

Prayer should not be an afterthought.

Prayer was the backbone of Jesus’ ministry. Often, he broke away from his disciples to spend time with God. In the same way, prayer is essential to individual lives and to the life of the church. Break away from your daily routine for quiet time in prayer.

Surround yourself with people who are seasoned at praying.

People who’ve established prayer routines have much to teach those wanting to draw closer to God. Seek out those who can help guide and encourage your prayer life.

God doesn’t require eloquence.

Don’t worry if you fumble for words when you pray. God is not looking for Toastmaster’s graduates, but sincerity (not that you can’t have both at once). If the words won’t come, God still knows what’s in your heart. Lift up that desire.

Prayer need not involve words.

The great Christian saints all write of prayer as a time of sitting quietly with God. Jesus even went off for 40 days of prayerful solitude. Take a deep breath. Exhale. Follow the breath as it flows in and out of your body. Think of it as the spirit of God breathing life into you.

Prayer is a time for conversation with a friend: God.

Whether you see that friend routinely or just every once in awhile, know that whenever you turn to God, you’re turning to someone who loves you.

Ask God for help if you get stuck.

Maybe you’ve hit a dry spell. There’s no shame in asking God to guide you to pray in a new way.

The three Ls of prayer: Listen, listen, listen.

Listening for God is central to prayer, according to the great saints. It’s so critical that St. Benedict began his famous Rule with this command for monks: “Listen with the ear of your heart.”

And remember, prayer can happen anywhere — it doesn’t have to take place in a church.
 
By Susan Hogan


Ordinary Time

Counted Time of the Church Year

by Dennis Bratcher

 

Most of the Seasons of the Christian Church Year are organized around the two major festivals that mark sacred time, Christmas and Easter. The Christmas Season encompasses the time of preparation during Advent and the celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas and Epiphany in early January 6th. The Easter Season encompasses the time of preparation during the 40 weekdays of Lent and Holy Week, and is linked with Pentecost Sunday 50 days later. While there are other individual holy days within the church year, these seasons mark the movement of sacred time within the church calendar.

The rest of the year following Epiphany and Pentecost is known as Ordinary Time. Rather than meaning “common” or “mundane,” this term comes from the word “ordinal,” which simply means counted time (First Sunday after Pentecost, etc.), which is probably a better way to think of this time of the year. Counted time after Pentecost always begins with Trinity Sunday (the first Sunday after Pentecost) and ends with Christ the King Sunday or the Reign of Christ the King (last Sunday before the beginning of Advent).

The 33 or 34 Sundays of Ordinary Time after Pentecost (23 to 28 Sundays after Pentecost) are used to focus on various aspects of the Faith, especially the mission of the church in the world. The Lectionary readings for these Sundays tend to be semi-continuous readings through certain sections of Scripture, especially through the Synoptic Gospel of the year. However, many ministers use Ordinary Time to focus on specific themes of interest or importance to a local congregation rather than building sermons around the Lectionary readings.

The sanctuary color for Ordinary Time is dark green, although other shades of green are commonly used. Green has traditionally been associated with new life and growth. Even in Hebrew in the Old Testament, the same word for the color “green” also means “young.” In Christian tradition, green came to symbolize the life of the church following Pentecost, as well as symbolizing the hope of new life in the resurrection.



Memorial Day Prayer

Almighty God, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of
our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy.
Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true
freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.



Pentecost

Pentecost
Pentecost is the day that the church was born. Christ was crucified, rose again, spent forty days with his disciples, then ascended to heaven. Pentecost immediately followed. For two millennia, Christians have been celebrating the church’s birthday with joy and exuberance. Pentecost takes place 50 days after Easter Sunday. Here’s how it all got started.
Background of Pentecost
Believed to be the oldest feast in the Church, the story of Pentecost dates back to the first century A.D. The feast of Pentecost coincided with the Jewish Feast of Weeks, which occurs 50 days after the Passover (Deuteronomy 16:10). According to Jewish tradition, the Ten Commandments were given to Moses 50 days after the first Passover, which freed the Hebrews from their bondage in Egypt. As the Hebrews settled into Canaan, the feast became a time to honor the Lord for blessing the fruits of their labors. At the time of Jesus, the festival focused on rabbinical law and traditions. Since this Jewish holiday took place at the same time of the Pentecost, many Jewish Christians appropriated its celebration into their Christian commemoration of the coming of the Spirit. Check out these Pentecost Flyers to help announce your Pentecost celebration.
Story of Pentecost
According to book of Acts, the Church came into being on the day of Pentecost. As 120 worshipers, including the Disciples, were fasting and praying in an upper room in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit descended upon them in a violent rushing wind that was heard throughout the city. Small flames of fire rested upon their heads, and they began to speak in other languages. As crowds came to investigate the commotion, the Apostle Peter spoke to them about Jesus and exhorted them to repent. From the crowd of Jews and converts, 3,000 realized the truth of his words and became followers of Jesus.
Pentecost Traditions
There are many Pentecost traditions. In some churches, baptisms are performed throughout the day. Pentecost is also known as White Sunday, because of the white garments worn by those who are baptized. In most Pentecost services, priests or church officials wear red vestments. Sanctuaries are decorated with banners depicting flames, wind, and doves. Churches in Italy disperse rose petals from the ceiling to symbolize the tongues of fire described in the book of Acts. French churches blow trumpets throughout the service to suggest the Holy Spirit coming with a violent rushing wind.
Pentecost Today
The purest meaning of Pentecost is that of a time of renewal for Christian believers. There is a renewed focus on evangelism, empowerment from the Holy Spirit, deeper intimacy with God, and fellowship. For Christians, the celebration of Pentecost imparts faith, hope, a sharing of community, and an awareness of a purpose much greater than themselves.