What is Lent?
In the early centuries of the church, the forty days before Easter came to be recognized as the season of Lent (a Latin word that means “spring”), when new converts were prepared for baptism. This preparation included biblical instruction, prayer, repentance and fasting.
In time, the practices of Lent were embraced by the entire church. Its purpose has always been self-examination and spiritual preparation leading to an exuberant celebration of Easter.
At Calvary, we emphasize the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and giving as Jesus encouraged in Matthew 6. Lent provides a wonderful opportunity to do this together, as a church body.
2017 Season of Lent
Our lives have become quite noisy. We are over-stimulated and easily distracted — our hearts and minds are focused everywhere but the cross. During this season of Lent, we want to turn down the noise. We want to strip away the layers of stuff that have crowded our hearts and blocked our minds from being able to see Jesus and hear His voice.
More than ever we want to focus on what it looks like to let go of this stuff, to turn down the noise, to sacrifice as an expression of our faith. What does it mean to pick up our cross and follow Him? In what ways are we depending on the systems and solutions of this world, when we should be seeking after the kingdom of God? Where are we trying to experience the joy of Easter without acknowledging the sacrifice of Good Friday?
This Lent we invite you on a journey. The goal of this journey is to make space for the Spirit to work in your life. If you are willing, we are going to dismantle idols - things we’ve put up in our lives to replace God. We are going to put off self and take on the way of Jesus. We are going to live as people driven not by fear and self-preservation, but by faith and trust in a God whose ways are higher than our own.
Each Sunday of Lent (and Ash Wednesday) we will study a story from the New Testament of someone who made a sacrifice to follow after Jesus. In daily prayer, we'll then reflect throughout the week on one particular area of our life (our possessions, our time, etc.) and examine how God may be leading us to break down established idols in this area and let something go for His sake.
We recognize that sacrifice that is not an expression of our love for God is empty, and in this vein we also want to bear witness to God's love and faithfulness as an element of our Lenten practice. Each Saturday, you'll be encouraged to look back at how God has led you thus far in your journey of faith and what steps he's asking you to take next. We want to arrive at Easter ready and able to experience the full joy of the resurrection because we were willing to die to self alongside Jesus throughout Lent.
It's easy to read this description of the Season of Lent and get overwhelmed. It sounds hard and you may feel defeated before you even begin. Take encouragement in two things before you give up:
- Focus on one small way that you can better identify with Jesus in this season. Pray and ask God to give you one forward step and be obedient to His answer. If these spiritual disciplines are new to you, take it slow and be sure to allow room for grace. Trust that God will bless your obedience, even in the small things.
- Practice Lent in community. Find people to walk this journey with you. Share in your struggles and joys together. We weren't meant to walk through the Christian life alone, teeth gritted in service to Jesus. Lent is another opportunity to depend on your fellow Jesus-followers and experience the gift of companionship.
This year Lent begins on Wednesday, March 1, and ends at Easter, on April 16. This equals forty-six days, because we exempt Sundays. Traditionally, Lenten fasts are suspended on Sundays, when God’s people gather to celebrate in worship.
As we said previously, Lent provides a wonderful opportunity to practice spiritual disciplines together, as a church body. These are the three we seek to incorporate into this season.
During Lent, we set aside extra time to pray. This year, we encourage you to:
1) Spend time in daily prayer asking God to reveal to you the truth of your life and guide you in His grace to move forward. The guide above includes four questions to use as an examination of your day. Our hope is that this practice will help us to see rightly - both the depths of our sin and the magnitude of God's grace.
2) Thank Jesus for walking ahead of you, “enduring the cross, scorning its shame,” leading you to a future with God.
3) Pray for three people in your life who do not know Jesus, that they would begin a journey of faith with Him.
Lent is a time for self-examination and contemplation. To facilitate this, Christians often set aside certain foods or non-essential activities. Fasting is not meant to be deprivation or a means of earning grace. Rather, fasting is meant to provide spiritual focus. By setting aside something that is normally a part of your daily life, you are reminded throughout each day of what Christ did for you and you can pause, reflect and pray.
Fasting is not limited to food (though many people may choose a meal or specific food group from which to fast). This year for Lent the Calvary Church Elders encourage the church family to prayerfully consider fasting from media. As we mentioned on the previous page, we live in an extremely "noisy" age. In this Lenten season designed to help us examine ourselves and prepare spiritually to celebrate Easter, we want to ensure that we can hear from God. Consider silencing the voices of the world that enter your life through the news (print & digital), social media, or the radio. Other fasts that could give opportunity for reflection and prayer include screen time, video games, reading, blogging, podcast listening.
During the Lenten season we will once again spend time in prayer considering how God would have us give, both of our finances and our time. Over the last couple years we have taken this season to evaluate pledging to the Grace Beyond project. Many in our congregation have already given faithfully to fulfill their pledge, before the pledge term has even ended. However, if you are new to Calvary Church or were not a part of our congregation during our time worshiping at Calvin College, we encourage you to use the season of Lent to prayerfully consider your role in the Grace Beyond project.
This project has always been about more than just a building, it's a journey that God has used to build the people of Calvary Church into more faithful followers of Jesus. This Lent, as we focus on ways we can respond to God's love for us and express our faith in sacrifice, ask God how he wants to use Grace Beyond as an opportunity for you to experience His blessing through obedient giving. This is an opportunity for you to join in that journey which God has us on as a church. Pledge cards are available at the Chapel Information Center or you can pledge online at gracebeyond.org/pledge.
If you have already faithfully committed to give to Grace Beyond, we encourage you to prayerfully consider how God would have you support the West Michigan International Friendship Center, one of the key elements of Calvary's Open Door Project. This year's project embraces the spirit of true biblical hospitality, recognizing the truth of Matthew 25:40, “...whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Working together with like-minded believers from other churches in the area, we are exploring and developing a places of welcome and community for immigrants and refugees. This will be a place where they can hear the claims of Christ proclaimed boldly and in love; can find community in an unfamiliar city; can find needed services (ESL and citizenship classes, for example) and be referred to other support organizations in our area; and can — as they turn to Jesus — receive initial discipleship training. Then we and other churches in our city can welcome them in to our own body and the family of Jesus.
Since first announcing this project in November 2016, the legal papers for tax exempt status are being prepared, and a team is searching for a location.
More information on how you can support the project financially and in prayer, is available at calvarygr.org/opendoorproject. Throughout Lent, we encourage you to ask how God would have you join with Calvary’s Open Door project to extend the love of Jesus and welcome strangers.
You can give to the Open Door project by marking a regular giving envelope with “ODP” and placing it in the offering plate on Sunday morning. You may also give online at mycalvarygr.org or by texting “ODP” and the amount you would like to give to 294-0700.