Category Archives: Lent

Broken Hallelujah

“After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know the man!’ At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” —Matthew 26:73-75

Perhaps you’ve noticed it. In our times of worship over the last five weeks, a familiar word has been missing. Hallelujah is a transliteration of a Hebrew phrase meaning “Praise Yahweh.” But more than just praise, it carries the connotation of being foolishly clamorous. Throughout the ages, the church has steered away from its use during the Lenten fast.

But why? Surely God is worthy of our boisterous praise year round! God is certainly worthy! But those joyful praises can make it difficult to remember that we are not worthy, and Christ died for us anyway.

The season of Lent and the Lenten fast serve to remind us of our own brokenness. Those things that we gave up, make us realize our need for God. As we hunger for those things from which we are fasting, we turn our gaze and attentions to God, and pray with the psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Like Peter, we have denied our Lord. We have looked to own benefit, and our own interests and have kept our distance from God. The season of Lent and the Lenten fast serve as an effective tool for self examination. We do not sing “Hallelujahs” because we do not want our Joy to carry us away from discerning our sin, and bringing us to repentance. During this brief time of repentance and reflection we postpone our joy so that when Easter comes we may celebrate it more completely.

Homework this week:
Pray Psalm 139, listen for what God would reveal to you.
Identify and agree with God on any hidden sins brought to your attention.
Repent of your sin, and turn to God.
Prepare for the overwhelming joy of Easter.

Lift Your Voice

“Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints.” —Psalm 149:1

This past Saturday evening we had the great privilege to host one of the best touring choirs in the United States. This 55 voice choir has traveled the world over the last 70 years, singing before presidents and heads of state. They have sung seven times at the White House for the previous two presidents. Even with all of these accomplishments, they sang for us, as if we were their most prestigious concert.

They serve as inspiration and example for us. Only half of the choir is made up of music majors. The other half comes from every walk of life and area of study you can imagine. But they come together with common purpose, lifting their voices in song to bring honor to their God.

We too serve this great and marvelous God. Each week we come together corporately to worship. We lift our voices in song, because we of all people have something worth singing about. We have the greatest story that can be told, and it is a story that often words alone do not do it justice.

We are approaching the season where we retell this story. As always, we will tell part of it with song. Holy Week carries such emotion that often our souls need assistance processing it all. The language of music helps make sense of these emotions and fulfills the deeper longing of the season.

And while our choir will likely never sing for presidents or heads of state, each week we do sing for the King of all kings. This Lenten season, I encourage you to join us for Choir, (Yes, you. The one reading this article. The one who doesn’t believe that you can sing well enough.) Join us for the season of Lent as we
explore the depth of the story.

Homework this week:
Pray about joining the choir just for the season of Lent. Let’s fill the choir loft for Good Friday and Easter. Together, let’s declare the story of our salvation, of the Cross and Resurrection.

Let Us Break Bread Together

“Suppose a brother or sister is without … daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” —James 2:15-16

A traditional part of the Lenten devotion is almsgiving. By caring for those who have no other means, we participate in the providence of God. Almsgiving makes the statement to God that we know he provides for our needs. We give, even out of our want, to provide for others, knowing that God will provide also for our needs. This almsgiving is a gift beyond the tithe that provides for the needs of others.

Homework this week: Consider making a gift to “Pastors Alms,” a fund that helps cover the immediate needs of people in our community.

Consider bringing an extra dish to the Pot-luck this Saturday as we feed almost 60 college students who will have no other source for dinner.

Lay It Down, Pick It Up.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'”—Matthew 16:24

Self-denial isn’t something we like to think about. Everything in our culture is directed toward the fulfillment of every desire. The very thought that we would purposefully suppress those desires is akin to failure in our minds. But Christ offers us a different picture.

Deny yourself. Not only on a small scale of personal desires, but deny yourself unto death (take up your cross). We ask, “What possible good could come of me laying down my life, or what good could possibly come from denying my desires?” Jesus expounds on the call, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

From the earliest days of the church, in the days leading up to our Lord’s passion and death, it has been the practice of Christians to lay something down, and pick something up. What gets laid down is between you and God. In fact, God may already be telling you what it should be. Traditionally the fast has included some type of food, but may also include fasting from leisure activities and hobbies. The purpose of this fast is to listen for the voice of God. How is God calling you to grow as a disciple this Lenten season?

The Lenten fast consists of the 40 days (Sundays excluded) between Ash Wednesday [Mar 9] and Easter Sunday [April 24]. Each time you hunger for what you gave up, listen for the voice of God. Let Him stir in you a hunger for righteousness in its place. I encourage you to meditate on Hebrews 12 throughout your fast.

But the fast is only half of the equation! Lay something down (fast), Pick something up (devotion).

During the season of Lent we are calling the Church into increased devotion. Start by meditating on the life of Christ. Read two chapters of a Gospel per day. This will have you reading the entirety of the four gospels by Easter. Join or start a small group during Lent. There are cards throughout the hallways of the church that can guide you in that group. Next, take up your cross, literally. Wear a cross necklace to remind you, and to proclaim to others the death and resurrection of Christ. Lastly, share that cross. Don’t worry, we have plenty, you can get a new one once you’ve given it away.

Have You Seen?

“Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” —Matthew 17:1-2

Peter, James, and John were in the inner circle. Jesus would tell and show them things that he didn’t reveal even to the other disciples. They went everywhere with him. They saw the masses fed, the sick healed, and the dead raised. Jesus was doing things that only the prophets of God had ever done before. It was clear to them that Jesus belonged in the ranks of the holiest men known to history.

But for all that they had seen, nothing could prepare them for that day on the mountain. They expected this was just another “small group meeting.” They would pray for one another and for the Kingdom of God. Can you imagine their surprise when before their very eyes Jesus was transfigured? He shone like the sun, and his garments became pure white (no more dinginess from the dust of the road). Then out of thin air, Moses and Elijah, the champions of the law and of the prophets, appear with Jesus. If this isn’t enough to shake them, they then hear a voice from heaven proclaiming that Jesus is His son, and that they should listen to Him.

I’m sure this isn’t what they expected when they woke up. They had been with Jesus every day for almost three years; they had served with Him, taught with Him, walked with Him, done everything with Him. They thought they knew everything about Him. But before we judge them for their blindness, let’s ask ourselves the question. “Have I seen Jesus?” We too serve with Jesus, we’ve seen Him as we work in mission and as we’ve sought justice for the oppressed. But have we seen a Jesus that shines? Have we seen Jesus in the splendor of holiness? Have we heard the voice from heaven declaring that Jesus is His son, and that we should listen to Him?

Lent is sandwiched between this moment of splendor, and the moment of God’s greatest glory, the cross. In one we see in His radiance that He is holy and blameless. In the other we see His divine sacrifice for our sakes, that we might be blameless and holy too.

As we enter the season of Lent, this season of self-examination, let us call to mind both our Lord’s transfiguration and his crucifixion. It is in this picture, when we truly see Jesus, that all of our work for the Kingdom of God finds value.