“Friendship is a lot like food. We need it to survive. What is more, we seem to have a basic drive for it. Psychologists find that human beings have fundamental need for inclusion in group life and for close relationships. We are truly social animals.” Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today
Here at Harvest, every small group we start has 5 tasks to accomplish throughout its life: fellowship, study, provision, worship, and evangelism. All five of these are taken from the last few verses of Acts 2, but I want to take some time to expound on each one of these tasks, and talk about why it is included, Biblical examples of what they each look like, and how we can incorporate them into the small group atmosphere. Today, let’s start with “fellowship.”
It’s hard to imagine that anybody would disagree that spending quality time with others is a necessary part of the human experience. Whether they are part of the church or not, people inevitably seek out others for friendship and support. Isolation has been shown to Of course, the followers of Christ are no different, we may simply have a grander reason for doing so; that is, to mimic the desire of unification that God is shown to have in scripture.
Indeed, the concept of “fellowship,” through the lens of the church, is far more than simply spending time with each other. Friendship is only the beginning. So let’s take a look at some passages of scripture that discuss fellowship, and see if we can glean wisdom from them.
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
From nearly the very beginning of human history, it has been decreed by the Creator itself that it is not good for us to be alone. Now, it is important to mention the specific context here: God then created Eve, who was a very specific kind of counterpart to Adam. But we cannot remove the fact that God did not say “it is not good for man to not have a wife,” or “it is not good for man to not have to do all the work by himself.” God simply says that it would be detrimental if the man that was created to remain by himself. As created beings of God ourselves, it is probably safe to say that the same concept applies to us: we should not be alone.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
The book of Proverbs is an interesting section of the Bible. Nothing else is quite like it, in that it is simply a book of wise advice from Solomon, handed down to his sons. It is full of pithy statements, that, give us some kind of wise truth. It is important to note that any given idea from Proverbs will not always be true, for we all know that sometimes we can find that we are not sharpened by other people. Not every friendship has a positive effect on our life. But we can, without a doubt, say that, in general, if we have good intentions and reflect the love of Christ, the fellowship we have with others will result in stronger relationships and stronger faith.
Have you ever thought about what it actually means to sharpen something? When you sharpen a pencil, you are removing pieces of that pencil until you have left a refined point with which you can produce a finer line when you write.
I believe that it is also true with us. As we seek to refine our faith, we remove the sin that entangles us. We leave behind our misconceptions about scripture. We even often discontinue relationships that do not have a positive effect on us.
Strong fellowship is a part of this. When we regularly meet together and grow more intimate relationships with one another, we have an opportunity to provide accountability to each other, to teach and learn from each other, and to provide emotional support and prayer for one another.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
God, in an utterly gracious and often perplexing act of charity, has given us permission to share in the task of bringing the earth and its inhabitants to a place of reconciliation with Him. The author of Hebrews claims, in the tenth chapter, that fellowship is a part of this process. We have the opportunity to encourage each other in carrying out the work of love that Jesus modeled for us in his ministry. We should continue to meet together on a regular basis, in order to carry this burden of evangelism as one.
Additionally, Hebrews’ author gives us what, in literary terms, would be called “the ticking clock.” He reminds us that we don’t have the rest of eternity to bring all of God’s creation back into the fold, as we sometimes want to believe. The author refers to the “Day,” the day when Jesus will return and His righteous judgment will come to pass. With such a large task to accomplish, it is imperative that we not cease to meet together and encourage each other on in our faith.
So, in this brief cruise through scripture, we have learned that fellowship was deemed necessary for humans by the very being that created them, that fellowship helps us to improve ourselves and those we are spending our lives with, and that meeting together regularly for encouragement is absolutely necessary if we are to make progress in the task that our Creator has given us.
This week, take time to consider the concept of fellowship. Take time to ask yourself if the time you spend in the company of others is going beyond just simple companionship or if you could be doing more to continue the example of close and intimate relationships that we see in the lives of Jesus and his disciples. There are many more words of wisdom regarding fellowship that can be found in scripture. Below, there is a space for comments. Add to the conversation by telling us about some of your favorite moments of unity and relationships in scripture!
Don’t just tolerate doubt. Celebrate it!
Greetings from The Bridge! If you don’t know what that means, The Bridge is our Preteen Ministry where we focus in on our 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students here at Harvest. I have been working with preteens for a long time now, and I absolutely love it! Did you know that research shows us that more than half of all Americans who accept Jesus as their savior do so before the age of 13? A lot of that happens in the Preteen years! Not only that, but the kids that make that decision young are statistically more likely to remain committed and steadfast in their faith than people who are converted later in life. We have the amazing opportunity to reach kids before they need to be rescued!
Preteens are at a unique stage in their development where they are moving from childhood to adolescence – they are “in between.” Their brains and bodies are changing at a remarkable rate, and they are feeling and thinking things that they have never felt or thought about before – all without knowing how to vocalize what is happening to them. Preteens are challenging and exciting, they are full of opportunity and potential, but it can also be frustrating to know what to do with a preteen and often they themselves can be frustrated with the changes they are experiencing.
Because of all of these things, it can be easy for preteens to fall into the cracks. It can be difficult to know how to “get through” to them, and they will often show little to no interest in what an adult has to say. This leaves parents and teachers feeling frustrated, but it is all completely normal in the developing brain of a preteen! You see, Preteens are transitioning out of childhood on a relational level and a cognitive level. They are starting to form their own identity outside of their family, and their friends and peers are becoming a huge part of their lives and a major influence on their behavior – which is why they are more interested in talking with their friends than with an adult. How preteens view the world is also shifting as they move out of having a black and white (concrete) understanding towards more abstract and personal understanding. This opens the door to questions and doubts about the world around them and how they fit into the grand scheme of things.
When you look at your preteen things may appear to be calm and quiet on the surface, but there is a lot happening behind the scenes as they begin to ask questions, have doubts, and wrestle with issues of morality and faith. Chances are they are thinking and wondering about things that you have no idea they are attempting to sort out. At first, that questioning and doubting can be shocking, especially when it comes to God and the Bible, but it is important to create an environment where it is safe for Preteens to express their honest doubt.
Honest doubt is not the same as having a spirit of unbelief. Doubts and questions should celebrated, not simply tolerated! They are a key indicator that your preteen is on their way to a living, breathing relationship with Jesus Christ. They are moving beyond simply “knowing about God” to “knowing God” personally! Make it clear to your preteen that there is a difference between doubt and unbelief. Let them know that it is okay to ask questions, and it is okay to have doubts; there is no sin in asking questions. If there is no room for doubt, there is no room for faith.
So be ready. The questions are coming (if they haven’t already). So make it clear to you preteen that it is okay to ask questions – in fact it is wonderful! Tell them that church, The Bridge, and your home are all a safe place for questioning. They get to bring their doubt with them. And don’t be afraid of not having all the answers, I can guarantee that you will not have all the answers to all their questions. There are some things that we just trust. On this side of eternity, we don’t have all the answers, some things are unknown to us – and that’s okay. Celebrate doubt, and be prepared to receive them in love, for:
“Now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13: 12-13.
In Uptown have been talking about the fruits of the Spirit. We had one memory verse during this series, and that is Galatians 5:22-23. My goal for the children in this series is to know that piece of Scripture, “But the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” My secondary goal is for them to, at a young age, start to understand the being and purpose of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is a mysterious being. While the children are learning that the Holy Spirit is a Helper that God sends to give us certain fruits, I think there are a few deeper things that adult believers should know. I have come to love a few sections of verses about it.
Primarily, Acts 2 shows a dynamic outpouring of the Holy Spirit from heaven onto the disciples. In Acts 1 Jesus ascends into heaven, and in the very next chapter there appears tongues of fire blown in by violent winds. The Spirit even enabled them to speak to people from other nations and other languages, which the disciples put to good use by spreading the gospel further. Peter preached and converted thousands of people. A portion of what he offered them in his final appeal was “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Peter had just experienced this, and now whenever we speak of the “gift of the Holy Spirit,” we have an amazing visual of the power that the Holy Spirit has.
The next starts in John 14:15, and reads in the NIV as follows:
“’If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.’
“Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’
“Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’”
I will not try to expound on everything in this passage, in truth I include all ten verses only because I think it is important to have a rounded idea of the context. The most important parts for me today are about the role of the Holy Spirit. We see in the first few verses as well as the last few verses that when Jesus left the Earth He sent another Being in His stead. The being:
- Is a Counselor
- Will be with us forever
- Includes Truth as part of its very being
- Is rejected by the world, they neither see nor know Him
- Is Holy
- Is sent in the name of Jesus
- He lives with us and will be with us
- Will teach us all things
- Will remind us of the things Jesus taught
The last passage that I will leave you with today is Galatians 5. Again in the NIV, it reads like this:
“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ have been crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not be conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
I recommend memorizing verse 22 and 23 along with the kids we are teaching, because we all have moments when we need to be reminded to choose to be holy. If you believe in Jesus as the Christ, you have the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit puts these good things in our lives to overcome our sinful nature. They cannot coexist. This is straight from the Scripture.
One thing we are teaching in Uptown is that its okay to ask God for help, because He can send us His Helper (that lives with us and in us) to help us choose, for example, patience rather than fits of rage. He can send His Helper to help us choose peace instead of discord; joy instead of envy; self-control instead of selfish ambition. We don’t have to rely on ourselves, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit. As 2 Peter 1:3 reads, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
I believe that it is because of the gift of the Holy Spirit that we are reminded of what Jesus wants us to know, that we are made righteous, and that we are given certain qualities, or “fruits,” through our belief in and love for God. For some of you this might be an indication of some new places to study to get to know the gift that we have from the Father in the Holy Spirit, and for others I have hopefully provided a refreshment through remembering the Helper that you have.
I think it is a safe thing to say that a well-cultivated church atmosphere would be a comfortable and inviting place for people to relax and be open with what they are feeling and the things with which they are struggling. A core component of Christian community is recognizing that we are all different, with differing backgrounds, preconceptions, and opinions. And if we keep our Christian life to just a Sunday morning service, this isn’t much of a hurdle to overcome. To be frank, these are things that are easy to avoid for an hour and a half on the weekend. We can come in, greet each other, ask about how things are going, get a coffee, worship, enjoy the sermon, and leave without ever needing to express our views on scripture or have in-depth conversations on how we interpret the Word of God.
But I believe that the free exchange of ideas, theories, and opinions is extremely important to the process of discipleship. The disciples of Jesus lived in a time when their cultural homeland was ruled by Rome. The first century church was spread across a world teeming with alternative viewpoints, other religions, varying political systems, and all other manner of voices at odds with both their own personal beliefs, and the teachings of scripture. Acts 2 tells us that three thousand people were added to the church after a single sermon from Peter! It is hard to believe that the early church wasn’t full of people who help a wide range of opinions. Sure, they all accepted the gospel, and were baptized into the Christian faith, but we all know that their are still a multitude of ideas that can differ from one person to the next, even in the same congregation.
A great opportunity to create this forum of discussion is within a small group. An intimate setting in which the members can feel free to present their ideas and opinions without feeling as though they need to align to a certain thought process. A place where simple and honest conversation can happen between people with different backgrounds and worldviews. A place where one person may be able to impart wisdom to another.
Because that is the companion thought to this whole idea. Not only should we be allowing others to present their ideas and opinions, but we also have a responsibility to accept teaching, correction, or advice from others. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Christian should be the one with the humility to accept that their interpretation of a Biblical passage or opinions on a certain topic may not always measure up to the truth of scripture. Not only should we allow others to teach us, we should crave that correction! For then we will be that much closer to the “thoroughly equipped servant of God” that 2 Timothy claims we have the opportunity to be.
The truth is, the church should be a place where viewpoints, opinions, and ideas should be able to be shared freely and without fear of ridicule or belittlement. If we want to change how we are viewed by the outside world, then we should probably make sure that we are being truly accepting and accommodating within our community. Allow others the opportunity to share their interpretation of scripture or their viewpoint on how we should respond to a certain political situation.
So here is my blog-post-challenge (I’m making it a thing.) to you: don’t shy away from honest and open discussions about things with which others may disagree, and don’t hesitate to allow others to impart wisdom to you. After all,
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Right now in Uptown we just finished up The Story for Children curriculum. Chyanne Higgins, our previous Children’s Director, started the transition with this curriculum taking the kids through the Bible learning about the scope of the narrative overall. Through this curriculum, your children have seen how God made the world, they have seen that when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit the relationship between God and man was broken. God knew that He would need to send a savior, and designed a history of man that points towards the person of Jesus. Abraham accepted the promise of God, he begat Isaac who begat Jacob, and the Israelites who descended moved to Egypt. With them they carried the promises of God. Israel eventually left the grasp of Egypt, and spent every generation from that time on struggling to remain faithful to God. We learned about good kings who tried to pull them back to God like David, Solomon, and Asa. We learned about the prophets who God spoke through to put them back like Haggai and Jeremiah. Through it all, they were promised a savior. When Jesus was born, he fulfilled everything. We wrapped up from there – showing the kids that Jesus is our king and he has something great for us.
As I was planning these lessons for our department it was refreshing to be reminded of how the whole story comes together to show the insane goodness and persistent love of God. I hope my children’s ministry staff benefited from these as I did. Most importantly, the kids had fun learning, too! They played games and did crafts that emphasized these lessons.
We are now learning about the Fruits of the Spirit as a mini-series around Easter until we start something new later in the spring. The emphasis is being placed on God working on earth through His Spirit to make us more like Him. When we know him, he gives us these qualities in our lives. “But the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” This is found in Galatians 5, and we are combining them with stories of the apostles from Acts that exemplify these qualities.
Also, recently, children have been learning some songs in a gathered worship time. We have implemented this for the month of March to help them learn songs for Palm Sunday and
Easter kids choir performances. Parents do need to sign kids up for the stage performance, but they have had a ton of fun with Rachel Johnson learning these songs as part of their normal Sunday activity.
I am also planning fun times for our parents and kids to get together, providing that Christian community that we keep encouraging. We had an ornament decorating party at Christmas where kids and parents alike were given an avenue to be creative. This week, during spring break we will spend Thursday (March 30) in the gym playing kickball, tag, and parachute games around a break for lunch.
Our UpCamps from last summer will be surfacing again around the centerpiece of Vacation Bible School from July 10-14. We will meet in the mornings, getting out in time for lunch.
Mark your calendars! Our theme is “Galactic Starveyors.” I am excited to be able to lay out for you our daily themes:
- The Relationship Began – Genesis 1:1-2, 26-31; John 1:1, 14
- The Relationship Broken – Genesis 3
- The Relationship Promised – Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-24; Luke 2:22-39
- The Relationship Restored – Mark 12:22-16:7
- The Relationship Continues – John 21:1-19; Acts 1:4,8
We will have more information and more excitement as the week gets closer, but keep us in mind when you are planning your summer. This will be a great event for kids familiar with church to build some theology and continuity, as well as a great outreach and evangelism tool for anyone else you may want to invite. We will also need plenty of help in many different areas!
Before I sign off, I just want to share that my personal focus when it comes to children’s ministry is to build up our local community. I want to provide Biblical teaching for your kids in a safe environment, to provide resources for your family to grow to know God better, and to equip you to go and be a light in our dark world. I hope that what I have to share about our ministry encourages you, that it shines a light on the little ones in our midst and shows that they are important to us because we know that they are important to God.
If you are interested in having any information about our Children’s Ministry, think you might want to volunteer, or want to know what other sort of resources we have for families please e-mail email@example.com
February 24th-25th, Harvest’s preteen ministry (The Bridge) hosted our 2nd Overnighter event. We had 34 students gather together with 8 adult volunteers to spend 15 hours together in community having some good old fashioned fun. We ate a lot of junk food, watched a movie, threw dodgeballs at each other, participated in nerf gun warfare, played games, and created lasting memories. Some of us even got a little bit of sleep!
As parents were checking in their students Friday night they were equal parts excited for the kids and concerned for my well-being. Mostly, they were grateful that we were willing to spend some quality time with the students.
Here at Harvest we have some truly amazing young people and equally amazing adult volunteers who are here to support our students and create lasting relationships with them. Preteens are an amazing age group. They are forming their own ideas about the world around them and discovering where they fit into the grand scheme of things; they ask questions and begin to develop critical thinking skills; they are anxious to grow up, and yet still know how to let loose and exhibit a carefree spirit.
I look forward to the Overnighter every year. The beauty of the Overnighter is that we can all come together to just have FUN. No lessons, no discussions, and an extremely flexible structure of events. The Overnighter is about building community and relationships. To the parents, thank you for trusting us with your kids. To the volunteers, I praise God for your hearts and willingness to serve. To the students, thanks for the fantastic memories! We will see you at the Overnighter next year!
We live in a very unique time.
I remember being in high school and getting my first cell phone ever. It was literally about the size of half a brick, and came with a holster to sling it on to my belt. I kept it next to my pager.
These days, students have the world at their fingertips. A wealth of information is available beyond anything that’s ever been known in history. People have dozens, if not hundreds, of ways to communicate with one another, and all with a single device in their pocket.
But, as we all know, this comes with many drawbacks as well, especially for teenagers. Students have begun to rely on their cell phone and social media as their primary form of communication. Because of this, deep, genuine, Christ-like friendships are becoming harder and harder to achieve, as this isn’t something that’s likely to come via a screen.
Because of this, we in the Refuge decided that this February, our discipleship camp would be focused on showing the students the importance of a Christian community that stretches beyond social media. So we headed out to Sweet Home to grow in our faith in Christ, and to grow as a Christian community.
The weekend began with the students being given prayer partners for the weekend, one specific person with whom they would be praying for, and would pray for them, throughout the weekend. Kyle Fox brought our messages, and he taught us the importance of how we connect with God, how we connect with each other, how God connects with us, and how we are meant to connect with the world.
The students we also challenged with a game that put the same limitations on them that social media does. They could only communicate in short phrases, like Twitter; only with pictures, like Instagram; for only ten seconds at a time, like Snapchat; and so on. Throughout the weekend, we were shown how limiting relying on social media is, and how important it is to have friendships that go beyond a screen.
Now that we’ve returned, friendships, new and old, have grown and students have learned to be praying for one another and to be in the Word together. In fact, a student led Bible study will be starting along with all of the new small groups beginning within the church.
It was an incredible weekend, and God moved in many ways. If your student wasn’t able to make it, be sure they can go during President’s Day next year, and make sure they can be at our summer camps this year!
Hey, everybody! Kyle here. I just wanted to introduce some of the greatest people of all time: Harvest’s team of small group leaders!
When I began looking for people to take the lead in the effort to create an atmosphere of fellowship and community within the Harvest family, I did not have to search very long. The call was (and continues to be) answered by those who have caught the vision of creating a church that lives life together, and we wanted to give everybody the chance to be able to see exactly who they are.
If you haven’t taken the step of joining a small group yet, get in touch with me, or any one of our leaders and we would be happy to talk to you about how to make that happen!
Most of our small groups start this coming week (week of March 12th)! We are adding new groups all the time. If any of these groups work well with your schedule, location, and childcare needs, be sure to send me (Kyle) an email or give the office a phone call at 503-492-9800 and I will give you more details on how to connect with that group. If you haven’t signed up yet to participate in a small group, click this link to fill out the form!
As Christians, we understand and believe that the Bible is important. The Bible is scripture, it is God’s word to man, and it is central to the understanding of our faith and our relationship to God. The Bible offers us comfort and encouragement; it give us assurance and guidance; and it provides us with discipline, admonishment, and conviction. It is through Scripture that God reveals himself and his character to the world, and speaks into our lives.
The apostle Paul writes that:
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
The Bible is an important book, dealing with all the major issues we face in our lives: God, eternal life, death, love, sin, relationships, morality and ethics, etc. The Bible lifts our spirits, build us up, gives us hope, and brings us close to God. Knowing God’s Word is one of the primary ways that we grow in our knowledge of who God is. As Christians we are followers of Christ, the adopted children of God – we should desire to know God, and do so to the best of our abilities.
As believers, we recognize on an intellectual level that knowing God and knowing God’s Word go hand-in-hand. However, as important as the Bible is to our discipleship to Christ, we often do not know how to approach reading the bible, let alone how to study it. The bible is intimidating. It is an ancient book, written over the course of 1600 years in different countries, cultures, and languages with over 40 different authors contributing to its 66 books. The Bible is a book, but it is also an entire library. It can be hard to read, and sometimes even harder to understand.
In general, as Americans we do not read much of anything anymore. An article posted by Christianity Today revealed that for nearly 1 in 4 of us it had been over a year since we last read a book, any book. Let alone a collection of ancient religious writings. Study after study in the last quarter-century has shown us that American Christians increasingly do not read, engage, or even know their Bibles. We live in a world of increasing biblical illiteracy. A recent LifeWay Research study found that only 11% of regular church attending believers read the bible every day, and only 3% study it.
If we, as Christians, claim that the Bible is central to our relationship with God then our actions must line up with those assertions. We need to be spending time (on a daily basis) with God, His people, and His Word. If we claim to follow Jesus then we must follow him every day of every week and every hour of every day. I believe that learning how to study Scripture is a key step in furthering our spiritual maturity and deepening our relationships with both Christ and His Church.
When the Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment in the Law was, Jesus answered:
“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
Learning how to study God’s Word is one way that we can Love God with our minds. Starting March 10th we will be offering a free 8-week class called “Grasping God’s Word.” Throughout those 8 weeks we will be looking at how to read, interpret, and apply the Bible. You can think of it as a crash course in Biblical Studies. It is my belief that as a Christian I am to be continuously seeking to grow in faith and maturity, and allow the Holy Spirit to shape me into the image of Christ daily.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
So, if you’re ready to challenge your mind and learn how to dig deeper into God’s Word I encourage you to sign up for our “Grasping God’s Word” class. I firmly believe that the entirety of Scripture holds value for all believers. Loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind does not require a degree from a Bible college or a seminary, but it does require our readiness to live our entire lives for Christ and to open ourselves up to be stretched and refined by the Holy Spirit. We do not have to know everything, that is impossible for all but God, but we do need to be willing to learn. To sign up for the class, email Rachel Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ash Wednesday is perhaps my favorite holiday on the Christian calendar aside from Advent and Christmas. I grew up Catholic, and Ash Wednesday was the first mass my step-dad shared with me. One night, I asked him to take me to church and he responded, “Get your shoes on”. I remember my acute confusion because it was Wednesday and with all the authority of a 10-year old, I declared church was for Sundays. He said “let’s go – get in the car”. We went to church. On a Wednesday. Ash Wednesday. It was a solemn service launching the 40 days of Lent. The priest smudged ashes in the shape of a cross on my forehead and said the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.
Harvest Christian Church doesn’t ‘celebrate’ Ash Wednesday per se, but I’ll personally still go to the nearest Catholic church for Ash Wednesday service. Last year, I came into the office and Mike said “Did you forget to wash your face today?!” hahaha! It gave me a chance to explain why I had ashes on my forehead.
Why ashes? Wikipedia explains it best: “Ashes were used in ancient times to express grief…. The gesture was also used to express sorrow for sins and faults. Examples of the practice among Jews are found in several other books of the Bible, including Numbers 19:9, 19:17, Jonah 3:6, Book of Esther 4:1, and Hebrews 9:13. Jesus is quoted as speaking of the practice in Matthew 11:21 and Luke 10:13: “If the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago (sitting) in sackcloth and ashes.” Interesting side-note: in the Catholic Church, the ashes are from the previous year’s palms given out each Palm Sunday, collected and stored, then burned down to ash. A symbol that we must not only rejoice of Jesus’ coming but also regret the fact that our sins made it necessary for him to die for us.
Growing up and attending a Catholic high school, I learned that the purpose of the 40 days of Lent is to prepare the believer through prayer, repentance of sins, almsgiving and self-denial for deeper understanding and awe of Resurrection Sunday. The 40 days represents the 40 days Jesus spent fasting and being tempted in the desert as described in the Gospels before beginning his public ministry. Today, as a Christian spending a lifetime in the desert of our present culture, I still find great value in this practice.
Traditionally, many people will give something up (example: chocolate/sweets or red meat) for these 40 days as a fast – remembering each time they have the urge to break their fast to deny the self and remember the sacrifice of Jesus in that moment and stop to pray. Many others will add something to their daily routine that they do not normally do such as giving food to those in need or adding a daily devotion for 40 days.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the preparing process. Preparation to draw closer to God and experience Resurrection Sunday with eyes wide open. In awe. In breathlessness. In fear and trembling. In renewal.
You do not need to run out and go get ashes – that is not the point. However, I would encourage you to start a fast or add a family devotional time or jump into a small group or bring in a food pantry donation item for the next 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday.
Remember Repent and Prepare. Start today on Ash Wednesday. Start here.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”