Lent is a season in the Church Calendar, beginning on Ash Wednesday (February 22, 2023) and concluding with the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection on Easter Sunday (April 9, 2023), that offers opportunity for us to reorder our spiritual lives.
Lent is a time to return to the basics, to orient ourselves around the spiritual realities of life. It is a season of spiritual pilgrimage, a journey wherein we choose to die with Christ and be buried with Him, so we can be raised in the resurrection of new life.
For 2023, we will be walking with Jesus as he makes his journey to the cross as it’s recorded in the book of Matthew. Each Sunday’s bulletin will include a location wherein Jesus ministered, a passage of Scripture to read, and a reflection on that passage from a member of our staff.
At Calvary, in this season we traditionally 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.
During Lent, we set aside extra time to pray. Our hope is that by taking this intentional step as a congregation in this season, we will come to Easter having developed or deepened a habit of prayer. For it is through prayer that God transforms our lives, it is an avenue through which His character is made evident in us.
One daily practice to consider for the season of Lent is the Prayer of Examen. Founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Examen is a method of personal daily prayer in which one reflects honestly on both the challenging and beautiful events of the past day. In the honest pondering of our daily highs and lows, we develop the beautiful habit of finding God in all things. It is through this careful attention to His presence in our lives that gratitude rises up.
Use these prompts to guide your time of prayer each day (typically done in the evening).
“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.” – Psalm 139:23-24
- Become aware of God’s Presence. Thank him for His love for you.
- Pray for the Holy Spirit’s grace and insight so that you may see and understand God’s involvement in your life and so you may see your life clearly.
- Review your day. Recall specific moments and your feelings and responses at the time. Focus your attention on a few moments that stand out to you.
- Take those moments that stood out you and reflect more deeply on what you did, said, or thought. What were your desires in the moment? Your motivations? In these moments, did you feel close to God or further away from Him?
- Respond to what God has shown you, either with thanksgiving or confession. Rest in God’s love for you and ask him to show you how you may better love God and neighbor in the coming days. Ask for his grace and power to do so.
Printable Prayer of Examen Bookmarks (distributed at church on February 19)
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 creating space for God. As you voluntarily deny yourself, you are reminded of Jesus as the source of your true sustenance.
Fasting is not limited to food (though many people may choose a meal or specific food group from which to fast). Abstaining from certain practices can help us loosen the grip that unhealthy appetites and destructive addictions have on our lives. You may consider fasting from buying books, wearing makeup, listening to the radio /podcasts or eating processed foods. To abstain from these things, things that are not in and of themselves bad, helps us resist subtle idolatry and refocus our lives on God.
On Sundays, we set aside our fast as we spend time gathered as a church, feasting in the presence of the Lord.
During the season of Lent we are spending extended time in prayer. As part of this practice we seek to know how God would have us deepen our giving. Consider ways that you can express your faith by following Jesus’s example of sacrifice both in His life and ultimately in His death.
As a church we use this season in the church calendar to focus on the Jonathan Fund. This is our church’s fund set aside to encourage those who are suffering. Consider giving to this fund or finding other ways to encourage those who are suffering that they may persevere through trial.
- Give Online at mycalvarygr.org
Calvary Church accepts online donations through checking or savings accounts, as well as debit and credit cards.
- Give by text to 616-294-0700
The first time you text to give, you will be prompted to visit a secure URL. Once you click the registration link, you will enter your credit or debit card information. At this point your donation will process and you will receive a confirmation text.
- Give in person or by mail
If you would like to designate your offering to the Jonathan Fund, giving envelopes are available in the racks between the seats in the Sanctuary. You can also mail your gift to: PO Box 1600, Grand Rapids MI 49501.
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. We continue to mark this season by celebrating baptism during our Easter services. If you are ready to make a public proclamation of your faith in Jesus, to publicly turn your back on sin and take on the new life of Jesus, consider being baptized.
Contact Christie to sign up, or receive more information about baptism at Calvary Church.
Lent: Week 7
Read John 20:19-29
By Tom Olsson, Minister & Lead Pastor and Jackie Rice, Director of Communications
As we come to the end of Lent, it’s okay if you find yourself still wanting more. Maybe you want more of Jesus, and your next step is to read through the book of John, revisiting the path to the cross from another perspective. On the other hand, maybe you’re not fully convinced that Jesus is someone you want to walk with. If you’re having trouble receiving Jesus and the peace, purpose and power that he offers, I would encourage you to ask Jesus to give you what you need.
In John 20:19-23, you see that one disciple is missing. The disciple Thomas was not present when Jesus first appeared to the disciples. And because he was not there, he could not believe. In fact, in the second half of John 20:25, look what he says: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Maybe today, you feel exactly like Thomas. You need something more. Well, about a week later, all of the disciples were together, including Thomas, and Jesus showed up again and gave Thomas exactly what he needed to believe (John 20:24-29). Jesus does things like that, because he is gentle and kind. And in this we see that you too can pray and ask Jesus to give you what you need to believe. And you can trust that He will provide.
John 16:24, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”
I pray as you celebrate Easter today that you would find true delight in knowing the Jesus we’ve been walking with through the season of Lent. May He grant you the faith to believe that He truly did die and rise again that you might experience His peace, purpose, and power.
- Do you struggle to believe in Jesus? What can you ask God to show you, that you might believe?
- What more do you need from God today?
Lent: Week 6
Read Matthew 21:1-11
This week we find ourselves at the triumphal entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. However, for Jesus it was anything but triumphal, as Luke writes, Jesus approached the city and began to weep. While the people hailed Him as King, their cheers would turn to jeers, and their rejoicing to reviling. Jesus was anguished over a people and a city who were spiritually blind and who would in a few short days reject Him as Messiah.
As Jesus entered the city, Jerusalem was electric. Upwards of 165,000 traveling pilgrims had poured into the city to celebrate the Passover. Conversations were spreading that Jesus was here, the Jewish Messiah would be in Jerusalem! Thousands had heard of His teachings and miracles, and expected his next act would be to triumph over Rome, and rule as King. One might anticipate He’d enter dressed in royalty, mounted on a white stallion, and surrounded by a military garrison.
Instead, Jesus, would arrive in humility and meekness. Not on foot as in times past, but riding an unbroken young male donkey, a colt, led by its mother. Not straddled on a beautifully hand-crafted saddle, but sitting on the cloaks of the disciples, draped over the animal. This was a significant moment.
As coats and palm branches are strewn across the road in His homage, He came not as a warring Monarch, but as the lamb of God whose sacrifice on the cross would satisfy the judgment on humanity’s sin. He came not as one expecting a golden crown, but one fashioned by thorns. And yet, without question or doubt, He was the expected Messiah and he deserved the praise and declaration being echoed from front to back, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
By Don Hancock, Minister & Director, Senior Adult Ministry
- In what ways has Jesus subverted your expectations of who He would be in your life?
- Did you know the word, hosanna, means to save or deliver? What has Jesus delivered you from and to? Is there something you’d like Him to rescue you from? Share that with Him today.
- Do you have reason to celebrate and rejoice in Jesus our Messiah this Easter season? Take time to offer Him sacrifices of praise.
Lent: Week 5
Read Matthew 20:29-34
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the well-known hymn, “Amazing Grace.” It was written by John Newton, a British sea captain and slave trader who was transformed as the light of God’s grace entered the darkness of his life and brought him into the light. John Newton later became an Anglican priest and worked in England to abolish the slave trade. He wrote,
“Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.”
Our passage today is from Matthew 20. Jesus was still on his way to Jerusalem when two blind men heard he was coming and shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” Their use of the title, “Son of David,” showed they believed Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah, the Anointed One sent by God. Jesus heard them, stopped and asked, “What do you want me to do for you? They replied, “We want to receive sight.” Then Jesus, filled with compassion, touched their eyes and immediately they received their sight and followed him!
I can picture them loudly proclaiming similar words to the hymn, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch. I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.”
This imagery of blindness & sight, of darkness & light is all through the Bible. Blindness is our human condition and we are in darkness until we see the light of Christ. Do you remember when you first saw the Light? When your eyes were opened to God’s love and care of you? The season of Lent is an opportunity to remember when God did this for us. To ask Him to restore the “Joy of your salvation.” To reflect on the fact that we were once blind but now we see, all because of what Jesus did for you and me.
By Susan Sorensen
Minister & Team Leader, Adult Ministries
- Take a moment to remember life before Jesus and how He opened your eyes and gave you sight. Praise Him for rescuing you and ask Him to restore the “joy of your salvation.”
- Who do you know that is still walking in darkness? Ask God to proclaim “Let there be light!” and illuminate their minds and hearts with the light of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).
Lent: Week 4
Read Matthew 19:16-30
As we continue on our Lent journey, we find Jesus in the region of Judea. It is here that he is confronted by a man who seems to be inquiring what it would take to be considered good enough to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus takes this question and helps clarify that no amount of good works are never enough, on their own, to qualify us to enter into God’s kingdom. Instead, Jesus simply informs the man that he should obey the commands of the law and this will be enough. The man responds by insisting that he has done these things since he was young. At this moment, Jesus turns and now engages with this man’s heart. He asks the man to leave all that he owns and follow Jesus, but this request has put him over the edge.
Sometimes we forget that Jesus is willing to love each and every one of us flaws and all. However, he does ask for our dedication and devotion to him in return. Jesus is inviting this man to join his disciples, to walk with him daily, to experience what it means to journey with the Son of Man. However, this man’s possessions and desires for the comforts of this world have become too great to overcome.
During the season of Lent we are reminded that this world has been created by a majestic and creative God, but the wonders of His creation are not to overtake the Creator Himself. Therefore, especially at Lent, we limit ourselves as a reminder that God is the one whom we serve and it is the job of the creation to magnify the glory of the Creator. At this time, may we be reminded that as we limit our intake and turn our eyes to Jesus, our Savior is worth the yearning and longing for His awaited return that these limits can produce in us.
By Mark Schaap
Minister & Director, Young Adult Ministry
and Team Leader, Kids & Students
- Are there possessions that distract you from focusing on Jesus?
- What might the Lord be asking you to leave behind as you fully follow Him?
- Are there people in your life that you might need to hold you accountable as you seek these things?
Lent: Week 3
Read Matthew 18:1-5,10-14
One of the major themes of the book of Matthew is the kingdom of heaven. As Jesus teaches his disciples and the crowds throughout the book, he refers to the kingdom of heaven when he wants to break down worldly assumptions about what’s important and what God values. As we arrive on our journey with Jesus this week, we come to Capernaum, Jesus’ adopted hometown. The disciples come to him and ask, “Who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Their question reveals that they haven’t grasped the full picture of the kingdom yet. Their pride drives them to desire greatness and authority over one another; their insecurity asks him to just tell them who to follow once he is no longer around. Neither of these characteristics fit within the values of God’s kingdom.
Jesus demonstrates his answer with a powerful image. He calls a little child over and places the child among the disciples. Then he tells them, “Unless you change and become like little children, you won’t even enter the kingdom.”
What is it about a child that fits the values of the kingdom of heaven? It is the child’s lowly position; a child is weak but full of potential, beloved even though unable to contribute to the family, and adored yet needing special care and protection. The disciples needed to hear that becoming like a child in the kingdom of heaven means not claiming greatness over one another as well as trusting that the King will direct and defend their lives.
To emphasize the importance of this principle, Jesus tells a parable he has told on another occasion. He uses the story of the one sheep who wanders off. The shepherd loves and values the sheep so much that he leaves ninety-nine others to look for it. The Father in heaven loves and desires to rescue each wandering childlike disciple. Rather than desiring to be the greatest and lead in the ways of the world, Jesus’ followers should have the same love for one another. That is what will fuel the forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration needed in the church in the months and years to come for the disciples – right up to our present day.
By Celeste McDonough
Minister and Team Leader, Mercy and Missions
- In what ways are you likely to want greatness – recognition, appreciation, or affirmation – in the church and your life?
- What characteristics of childlikeness would you like to see God grow in your heart and life? Tell Him what you need in this area.
- Jesus invites us to share the Father’s heart that none of the “little ones” he dearly loves should perish. What does this say about how we should serve and love those who are vulnerable or weak? How can you join him in this work?
Lent: Week 2
Read Matthew 17:14-20
This week we find ourselves in the region of Galilee, where the disciples are facing an obstacle in their spiritual journey. A father has brought his demonically oppressed son to them for healing, but they have been unable to drive the demon out. The father thus appeals to Jesus himself and begs for him to take action.
From Jesus, we hear a startling response: “You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” In spite of these words, Jesus extends mercy and immediately sets the boy free from his spiritual bondage. These words ringing in our ears reveal then, not an unwillingness to act on Jesus’ part, but a reminder of the crucial element of any successful spiritual journey: faith.
Jesus’ words echo those of the LORD in Numbers 14, when the people of Israel failed to believe that the He would help them overcome their own obstacles to entering the Promised Land, despite his visible presence with them and all the miracles they had witnessed as he brought them up out of Egypt. Then, as now, only those who walked by faith could inherit God’s promises and overcome opposition in their spiritual journey. Jesus explains this privately to the twelve, inviting them to walk with greater boldness. If Jesus was indeed who we heard Peter declare him to be last week – the Messiah, the Son of the Living God – what could stand in their way as long as He was with them? With faith the size of a mustard seed, nothing would be impossible for them!
Like the disciples, we will face obstacles and opposition in our spiritual journeys. There are giants in the land, and spiritual forces which seek to throw us down and cause us harm. Yet, Christ is with us. The season of Lent is an invitation to fix our eyes on Jesus as He heads to the cross to triumph over every obstacle, and to walk by faith in our own journey.
By Josh Karhan, Minister & Director, High School Ministry
- How have you seen the power and presence of God in your life?
- How will faith that Jesus is with you change the way you face obstacles and opposition to following the way of Jesus this week?
- This week, pray for & watch for opportunities to walk with greater boldness and faith in Christ.
Lent: Week 1
Read Matthew 16:13-20
The start of every journey is a single step. As we begin our Lenten season of walking with Jesus, we find ourselves in Caesarea Philippi. Jesus is asking his disciples a fairly straight forward question – “What are people saying about who I am?” A lot of journeys begin like this – a question that seems simple, a purpose that’s clear cut. Yet beyond the surface there’s more at stake. Here Jesus doesn’t really want to know just what the crowds are saying about who He is, He wants to know who the disciples say He is.
This is where we find Simon, a disciple of Jesus who would become known as Peter later in this passage, declaring in front of Jesus and the other disciples – “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” What an incredible response! While the disciples noted many thought of Jesus as a prophet like the others who had come before Him, Simon Peter knew the truth. This declaration that Jesus was the promised Messiah was a small step that would change His journey, and his name, forever.
The season of Lent is an opportunity for each of us to take our own spiritual journey. We can join our fellow believers and follow Jesus as he heads to the cross. In the days between now and Easter Sunday, we can seek out the truth of who He is and decide for ourselves if we will declare Him to be Jesus, “Messiah, the Son of the living God.” All it takes to begin is a single step.
By Andy Crowder, Minister, Worship Ministry
& Jackie Rice, Director of Communications
- Who has Jesus revealed himself to be in your life?
- Quieting the voices of the world and those around you, what does it look like for you to follow the way of Jesus this week?
- Try to find a way each day this week to say thank you and declare that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.