During the season of Lent in 2015, we will highlight the way that Jesus’ suffering calls us to the practice of lament.
What is lament? Lament is a vital Christian form of prayer that brings to God our pain, grief, and outrage at the world’s evil, suffering, and injustice. Lament is a painful protest, a cry to God to hear and to deliver, and a profession of praise and trust in God’s presence and power to save. A large percentage of the prayers of the Bible (especially in the book of Psalms) include lament, which teaches us not to flee from suffering but rather to face it and bring it to God and thus to find the comfort and hope that only he can give. For more help in understanding and practicing lament, see the list of resources here.
Why lament in Lent? This is especially appropriate for the season of Lent, since Jesus’ ministry of self-sacrificial service naturally highlights sin in our lives that needs to be named, lamented, and put to death. Jesus’ suffering also helps us see the effects of suffering caused by sin’s curse that Jesus lamented and bore for us and that he calls us to lament and bear as well. This series also follows from and reinforces the prior season and sermon series on Jesus’ care expressed in evangelism and outreach. First, lament teaches us to see, name, and feel the suffering of others, and so it teaches empathy in the process. This reinforces the outward-facing posture that Jesus models and calls us to adopt toward the world. Second, lament provides an indirect apologetic and a sort of bridge-building experience because it demonstrates to non-Christians (and to Christians, too!) that trusting and following Christ is not an attempt to escape from hard realities of the world but rather leads us to acknowledge suffering and evil directly, and it also reveals the logic and fittingness of God’s solution to the world’s suffering and evil in Christ.
Why now? In addition to all the usual kinds of suffering we all experience, Central Presbyterian Church has experienced much loss and pain in the recent past. Furthermore, we live in a city that has been endured a lot of trauma following the shootings and protests in Ferguson and elsewhere in the last six months. Lament will teach and equip us to respond to grief and suffering in the way that God himself directs in his word.
Traditionally, the Lenten season is the entire forty-day period during which the church prepares for the celebration of Easter. When it first emerged in church history, Lent served primarily as a time of intense instruction, fasting, and prayer for converts to the Christian faith in the days leading up to their baptism. The practice of observing forty-days probably arose in Alexandria, Egypt in the third century as an imitation of fasts by Moses and Elijah as well as Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness following his baptism, which was celebrated on Epiphany (January 6) by Christians in the eastern Roman empire. Following the council of Nicea (325 A.D.), the forty days of Lent were shifted to the period leading up to Easter, which became the annual day for administering baptisms in many churches. This pre-Easter observance of Lent quickly became the universal Christian practice. Eventually Lent became a discipline observed by the whole church and not simply new converts.
Lent is a season of reflection and self-examination, of self-denial and repentance, of reconciliation and spiritual growth as we meditate on the life of Jesus and his call for us to follow him as his disciples. During Lent, almost all churches that follow the annual church calendar hear readings and sermons from the gospels, which tell us of Christ’s humiliation and suffering as he sacrificed himself to serve a fallen and broken world even to the point of death on a cross. In those gospel readings, we also hear Jesus’ summons to take up our own cross and follow the path of suffering service for the sake of God’s kingdom that he first followed on our behalf as the Suffering Servant-King.
It is hard to overstate the importance of committing verses and passages from Bible word to memory. Transforming our mind is an essential aspect and engine of spiritual growth, and storing God’s word in our mind can be a powerful means by which God reshapes our thinking. Thus, the psalms writes, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). It is so fundamental to following Christ that Dallas Willard, a Christian philosopher and esteemed writer on spiritual formation, once said,
If I had to—and of course I don’t have to—choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life and take only one, I would choose Bible memorization. . . .because Bible memorization is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what they need.
If you would like some practical motivation and help in starting (or returning to) this life-changing spiritual discipline, you can find many resources to help you here.
On January 6, the church enters a new season of the liturgical calendar. The colors at the front of the church change from white to green to signify the season of Epiphany.
When we say, “I’ve had an epiphany!” we mean that suddenly we see something profound that changes everything. Something is shown or revealed to us that we were missing. During the season of Epiphany, the church has traditionally focused upon events in Jesus’ life that show us his identity as our Savior and Lord. According to the most ancient traditions, Epiphany begins with reflections on the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12), which shows his royalty and mission to all nations, the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34), which shows him to be the beloved Son of God and promised Redeemer King, and the marriage feast at Cana (John 2:1-12), which shows his power to bring the promised age of purification by his blood and new abundance in God’s renewed creation.
The Epiphany theme of seeing/showing means two things for us. First, we have the chance to see Jesus for who he is. He is our protecting and defending King, the Savior for all peoples, the beloved Son of God who makes us beloved children of God, the Spirit-anointed Christ who also gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit, the host of the great banquet to which we are invited, and. All we long for and all we strive for is found in him if we will have eyes to see.
Second, we have the calling to show Jesus to others. In fact, it is in seeing Jesus for who he is that we become able to show Jesus to others. When we see we are saved by his grace and not our own righteousness, we are able show him through lives of humility rather than pride. When we see all he has done to meet our needs, we are able to show him by caring for others’ needs. When we see how he has welcomed us in, we are able to show him through our hospitality. When we see how we have been forgiven, we are able to show him by forgiving. When we see how richly Jesus has loved us, then we will be able to show Jesus by loving others.
This daily worship guide for the 4th week of Advent reflects the theme of Jesus as the redeemer who delivers from sin and its evil effects and renews all things from the sermon on Romans 8:18-25 in corporate worship on December 21. Using this worship guide will help us extend and deepen the focus of corporate worship over the course of a whole week. (This guide can be downloaded as a PDF or Microsoft Word document file here.)
Key themes: Salvation from the evil effects of sin in all creation; the cosmic scope of Jesus’ power and authority to save; the renewal and glorification of the whole creation Continue reading
This daily worship guide for the 3rd week of Advent reflects the theme of Jesus as the redeemer who reconciles God and man from the sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 in corporate worship on December 14. Using this worship guide will help us extend and deepen the focus of corporate worship over the course of a whole week. (This guide can be downloaded as a PDF or Microsoft Word document file here.)
Key themes: God’s reconciling and uniting the world to himself and reconciling and uniting human beings to one another through the person and work of Jesus Continue reading
This daily worship guide for the 2nd week of Advent reflects the theme of Jesus as the revelation of God’s truth and grace from the sermon on John 1:1-14 in corporate worship on December 7. Using this worship guide will help us extend and deepen the focus of corporate worship over the course of a whole week. (This guide can be downloaded as a PDF or Microsoft Word document file here.)
Key themes: Jesus as the ultimate Word of God who provides us with (1) truth about our origin, meaning, and destiny and (2) grace to save us from the spiritual darkness of rebellion against God. Continue reading