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Reflecting on Last Sunday and Preparing for Lent
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Preparing for Lent

Dear Theo
Firstly, a big "thank you" to all of you who attended the combined service on Sunday where we made the exciting, historic and courageous decision to purchase land for our Grace Congregation. This decision will now go to Presbytery and General Assembly for ratification. We pray for God's providence and blessing!

Tomorrow is not only the first day of March, but it is also the start of Lent - a period of preparation for Easter.

I have provided some detail about Lent below which I encourage you to read through - it is an updated version of the letter I have sent out in years gone by...
But before we get to that - just some arrangements:
  • There will NOT be a Shrove Tuesday service tonight. Instead we are encouraging you to have a bit of a "feast before the fast" at home with your family. In the detail below I provide a reading and a prayer that you can go through with your family.
  • On Wednesday at 19h00 we will have an "Ash Wednesday" service - it is a beautiful and meaningful service and I urge you to come along.
Please take the time to go through the letter below and to then take a few minutes to chose a practical step or two to take through Lent - you will grow from the experience!

With much love,
Theo
 

What is Lent?

It is based on the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness at the beginning of His public ministry. (Sundays are not counted, so Lent is actually 46 days long)

During the second century it became customary to baptise all converts on Easter Sunday. During that period of persecution and martyrdom, they had to be thoroughly prepared for the confession of their faith and for their challenging walk with the Lord.

These preparations lasted 40 days – not counting Sundays. Fasting and Prayer played an important role alongside the teaching the converts would receive during this time but on Sundays they would break their fast as they came to worship.

After a while members felt the need to repeat the course. This season became known as Lent because it always took place in during the European Spring (the Latin word for Spring is Lent). Lent reaches its climax on Good Friday and ends with the Celebration of Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

There are two important aspects to Lent:

  • Penitence: We realise our own brokenness and our need for Christ.

  • Preparation: We strive to open our hearts wider for the celebration of Easter.

During Lent there are three tasks: Pray, Fast and Give.
1. Prayer is about Preparing our Hearts, becoming more aware of God's love and goodness. It's not just about rituals but relationship.
2. Fasting doesn't only have to be about food. It's any kind of addition or subtraction from our lives that sharpens our focus on God.
3. Giving is about making a difference in the lives of others.

FASTING:
During Lent people fast. While fasting is seen as abstaining from food, it can be much more. During the time of Lent we are encouraged to
add to or subtract from our daily routines with the goal of drawing closer to God.

We add and subtract to our lives so that we don't just move forward but God-ward. Traditionally there are three directions for our “fasting” to take:
Our Lent additions need to do justice to:

  1. God (through prayer, reflection and action)

  2. Ourselves (through the creation of good habits or breaking bad ones)

  3. Others (through charity and kindness)

So, here are some examples:

  • Give up sugar or coffee and use the “cravings” as a reminder to think about and devote yourself to God.

  • Set your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier for devotions or exercise.

  • Reduce your TV hours and use the time to read a good devotional book or to spend quality time with your family.

  • Volunteer some time to help at a charitable organisation or do something to help the poor and needy.

  • Come to church more regularly or join a fellowship group for the 6 weeks

Where does Shrove Tuesday fit in?

In many Christian traditions people would abstain from rich foods during this fast time. As Wednesday is the start of Lent, Tuesday would be used as a day to use up the “rich” foods (eggs, butter, oil, milk, etc) in the house. Pancakes serve this purpose very well! Also, Jesus reminded His disciples that they should not look mournful when they fasted and so the church found it fitting to start a fast with a feast! (In France Shrove Tuesday is called "Mardi Gras" or "Fat Tuesday" with the emphasis of entering fasting with feasting.)

There is no biblical mandate requiring Christians to observe Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday; it is a matter of personal conviction. However, concepts like confession (Prov. 28:13; James 5:16; 1 John 1:9) and feasting and celebration (Ecc. 3:13; Rom. 14:5-6; 1 Cor. 10:31) are commended by Scripture.

As we are not having a Shrove Tuesday gathering at the church this year, here is a Scripture Reading and Prayer for Shrove Tuesday that you can use with your family tonight:

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the LORD is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalm 100)

"Lord God of Heaven and Earth we come together as a family tonight to praise You for your love and goodness. You are our Heavenly Father who created the beautiful world we live in and gave us the wonderful lives that we live. You gave us Jesus who showed us what You are like and then He died in our place so that we could be your children. You also sent your Holy Spirit into our heart so that we are never alone. You are a good God and tonight we praise You and we thank You and we  love You. Amen."

Ash Wednesday

Job 42:5-6. Job says to God: "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."

Ash Wednesday is primarily a day of repentance – of sorrow because of what our sins do to God, His work and those around us.

According to the Bible, repentance consists of:

  • a true sense of one's own guilt and sinfulness;

  • an expectation of God's grace and mercy in Christ

  • an actual hatred of sin

  • turning from sin to God

  • seeking a holy life by persistent effort, obediently walking with God.

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation but worldly sorrow brings death. (2Cor7:10)

In the very traditional observation of Ash Wednesday, worshippers come forward to confess and repent of their sin in silent prayer. They are marked with the sign of the cross, using a paste of ash and olive oil. The ash represents the sorrow and contriteness we feel over our sin. The olive oil represents joy, blessing and consecration which is the work of the Holy Spirit. We are marked with the sign of the cross to remind us that it is Christ who saves us.

Often as they are marked, the minister or elder will say “Your sins are forgiven – go and sin no more.” (It is not the minister or elder who forgives, but God.)

Ash Wednesday starts the “Fasting” of Lent on the right foot – we realise how badly we need God.

Keeping Perspective...

While one tries to observe these “fasts” and observances as well as possible, there must be no legalism about this. We are not trying to impress God. We're trying to prepare our hearts. Don't be guilt-wracked if you don't manage it all the time.

On the other hand, there can be great value doing some things differently over Lent. The change in routines, the introduction of a discipline or the reining in of an appetite can be tools powerfully used by the Holy Spirit to sharpen our appreciation of what we celebrate at Easter. You are encouraged to watch this very very powerful video about Jesus' 40 days in the Wilderness.

Here are the lyrics of the song in the video!

40 Days (Matt Maher)
40 days to wander
40 days to die to self
40 days to grow stronger
As faith breaks open the gates of hell

The Jubilee is over
But grace is far from gone
In the hearts of the faithful
Broken on the wheels of love

In the desert of temptation
Lies the storm of true conversion
Where springs of living water
Drown and refresh you
And as the Jordan pours out change
Your true self is all that remains
Where springs of living water
Bind and break you
Bind and break you

40 days to remember
The Paschal sacrifice
40 days to discover
As passion calls us to new life

The Jubilee is over
But mercy is far from gone
In the arms of the Father
As the wayward child comes home

In the desert of temptation
Lies the storm of true conversion
Where springs of living water
Drown and refresh you
And as the Jordan pours out change
Your true self is all that remains
Where springs of living water
Bind and break you
Bind and break you
Bind and break you
Bind and break you

In conclusion.

Lent is an opportunity rather than a burden and we pray that yours will be meaningful!


 


 


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Theo Groeneveld · Moreleta Park · Pretoria, Gauteng 0044 · South Africa

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