Tag Archives: Lent2012

Heart and Seek–praying in the light

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Matthew 5:14-16, 43-45a (Common English Bible (CEB))
You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.
  “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous.

*What grabbed your attention in this reading?

*What questions did it bring up for you?

*How does the Scripture connect with your highs and lows of this week (what is God saying to you, in your daily life, through the Gospel)?

*Have you been trying out the fasting practice this week–abstaining from text messaging and video games? (or some other fasting practice?) How is it going? What is easy and hard about it? Has it helped you nurture your relationship with God or with others? How?

 

Imagine (or get out!) three candles in a row, all lit. Over one of them, place an upside-down flower pot that has a hole in the bottom (where water would drain). What happens to the light? Over the second candle, place an upside-down votive holder–clear, but with no holes in it. What happens to the light? Let the third shine just as it is. What happens to that light?

Which candle are you? How can you fill your lamp/candle so you can keep shining indefinitely? Are you covering your light so it can’t be seen, or so it goes out?

How might this be related to how we pray for our enemies?

Spend some time praying for your opponents/enemies…see what happens to your light.

 

with the Word online Bible study: fasting

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It’s Lent, a time of examination and preparation. One way the church has historically observed Lent is with the practice of Fasting…why? How? What? When? Where?

Matthew 6.16-18

‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  

Jesus seemed to take for granted that people would fast. Notice that he did not say “if” you fast, but “whenever” – as if fasting was something a person who followed Jesus would do regularly. Still, we don’t hear a lot about fasting in our culture – that may be because fasting is a practice that reminds us that we are not ultimately in control of everything. We have become a people very proud of our self-sufficiency and independence; but fasting helps us keep our balance in life. Jesus knew that we needed to live in the balance of life focused on God, and it’s easy to let our focus slip to things we think we need (letting our bodies control us).

What do you think about this passage? What do you hear when you hear Jesus say “and whenever you fast…”? What do you think of when you hear the word “fasting”?

Fasting helps us see ourselves as we really are – when we remove something from our life, we quickly see how much we depend on it – how much it controls us.  It can help us see that we have come to depend too much on one thing – and just as God promises, our lives become imbalanced when we become too dependent on something and we lose our focus on God.  Deciding to go without, food, or television, or our cell phone, or ipod or video games we learn how much our peace depends upon the pleasures we get as a result of these things – and how powerful & clever the body or mind are at getting its own way against our strong resolves.

Have you ever tried to go without something–fasting from TV, or food, or something else? How did that go? What did you learn during that time?

Luke 4:1-4

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ‘  

Jesus went without food or the company of others for forty days to be strengthened by God – to be sure his focus was on God and not on himself or his desires.  Tempted and tested over and over again, Jesus became fully aware of the weaknesses of a human body, mind, and spirit by enduring a much longer fast than most of us could imagine.  He fasted before he began his ministry and was convinced he knew what was possible for us in a life with God here on Earth.  In human form he learned first hand about the strength provided when we trust and focus on God. Jesus taught us by doing what we can do – from what is possible not by what is impossible.  Jesus added spiritual practices to his life and taught us from what he knew would help us live as we were created to live.  He expected us to fast so that we might also become confident in our knowledge of God and ourselves.

Fasting among the Jews and then among Christians began as a spiritual practice of going without food and sometimes drink for a certain amount of time.  It was intended to be a time of re-centering themselves toward God – to allow the physical hunger to remind them that they were not created to be self-sufficient or live independent of God.

Spiritual practices exist to help us grow in our faith, our hope, our love, our gratitude – they are not a way to win the approval of others or of God.  When we fast from something we desire, it helps us become more open to the acceptance of God’s will for us and helps us to see our lives through our faith in God.

Lauren Winner learned practiced fasting as part of her Jewish faith and then came to add the practice to her life as a Christian.  She said, “Fasting is not merely a long, torturous means to a far-away end; a fast is not to be understood as a miserable experience that will sanctify you.  Nor is a fast like a back-room deal at the courthouse, the lawyer for the penitent trading three weeks of food in exchange for divine mercy.
…the fast accomplishes a repositioning.  When I am sated, it is easy to feel independent.  When I am hungry, it is possible to remember where my dependence lies.” (Mudhouse Sabbath p. 91)

What do you think? How can you let something go and learn to be more dependent on God, from whom all blessings flow? What would it mean to fast from something this week or this season, and how might it change your perspective on where God is and what God is doing?

In the Family Devotional Booklet for Lent there is a fasting practice recommended. Last week we fasted from snacking between meals. Did you try that? How did it go? This week we are fasting from text messaging and video games. How is that going? What’s easy, what’s hard, and what is helping you to see God and life differently?

Do you need a family devotional booklet for Lent, with daily scripture readings and reflection questions? Contact Teri in the church office.

Lent 2012: Heart and Seek

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In worship this morning John reminded us that we have entered the season of Lent, and told us there are family devotional booklets available for us to use each night to help us focus on seeking God this season. If you didn’t get a booklet, please let us know and we’ll get one to you!

Part of the booklet includes an optional Fasting practice (if you choose not to do it, there’s also a daily question we invite you to answer with your family).
Keep reading, because fasting is not necessarily what you think! We won’t be going days without food or giving up meat. We’ll fast from something different each week. Fasting is a practice that goes all the way back before Jesus—it was a practice that helped people draw closer to God in the Old Testament, Jesus fasted, and Jesus said things like “when you fast,” which suggest that he expected his followers to do it too. Fasting is the root of the common Lent practice of “giving something up”—but instead of simply giving up m-n-ms or “giving up” something we don’t do anyway (yes, we’ve done that!), we’ll be exploring the practice of fasting from a variety of things. Each Sunday in this booklet there’s a new thing that’s common in many of our lives. During the week from Monday-Sunday, we hope you’ll try, as a family, to fast from that thing. This is a way to re-orient ourselves, to remind ourselves that often we are so full there’s no room for God’s new thing, and to try a different way of living even if it’s just for a short period. There’s also a separate sheet about the practice of Fasting so you can learn more about it and how you might try it.

This week’s fasting practice is:
We are going to try giving up snacks—we’ll only eat at mealtimes, not in between. When you are hungry between meals, let that hunger be a reminder to look to God, who gives us the bread of life. Let that hunger be a reminder that your body does not control you—you can let your spirit take the lead instead. Let the hunger be a reminder that there are millions of people in the world who do not have enough to eat, and take that moment to pray for them.

Yes, we know that girl scout cookies just came in. They’ll still be there waiting for you on Sunday or Monday. 🙂

with the Word online Bible study: create in me

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Psalm 51:1-12

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgement.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Have you ever done anything so wrong, so destructive, so hurtful, that it was impossible to make it right? That’s the kind of prayer this is. Psalm 51 is the prayer of David after the incident known throughout scripture as “the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” You might recall–David saw Bathsheba and thought she was beautiful, he had an affair with her and she became pregnant…in order to hide the matter, he recalled her husband from his army and tried to get him to go home and sleep with his wife. When Uriah’s honor would not permit that (it was forbidden for those on duty to sleep with their wives, or even in beds, while the army was in the field), David had Uriah sent into the thick of the fighting, where the rest of the army pulled back and Uriah was killed. Then David took Bathsheba to be one of his wives. When we ask the confirmation class to count how many of the Ten Commandments David broke in this one affair, they often come up with more than 10!

On being confronted with his sin, David prays this prayer. He knows he’s in the wrong, and that it’s too late to make amends or practice reconciliation with the people he’s hurt. But God is also hurt–God put a lot of trust in David, and gave him a lot of responsibility. It’s never too late to make amends with God–and after this prayer, God does continue to love David, just as God continues to love us even when we hurt others and hurt God.

This is a classic prayer for Lent, a season of repentance. To “repent” means to Turn–to turn around, do a 180, and decide to change. A new translation of the Bible uses the phrase “change your hearts and lives” instead of “repent” because of the connotations that word has in our culture. It’s not only about apologizing, it’s about changing behavior, changing our hearts and lives.

What is something you need to change? What is something you need to put behind you and walk away from, so you can seek God with your whole heart? Can this prayer help?

with the Word online Bible study: heart and seek

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Psalm 119:10-16

With my whole heart I seek you;
do not let me stray from your commandments.
I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes.
With my lips I declare
all the ordinances of your mouth.
I delight in the way of your decrees
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts,
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

The psalms are often called the prayerbook or the hymnal of the Bible. How often do you use the psalms in your own prayer? How often do you use hymns or songs in your prayer? Saint Augustine said that “the one who sings prays twice”–possibly because melody and words combine in ways beyond our own intellectual capacity, perhaps because God just likes music, perhaps because singing is an embodied experience so we pray with not just our voices but our whole selves…do you agree with his statement? Does singing feel like prayer to you?

What are some ways you seek God? How do you nurture your relationship with God? The psalmist suggests meditating on God’s word and proclaiming God’s goodness as two of the ways he seeks God with his whole heart. Those are certainly good ways! What other ways can you think of, or do you practice?

In ancient culture, the Heart was the seat of reason as well as emotion–it was the place of the spirit, the center of the being, the word you would use to say “with the essence of who I am.” Sometimes we use “mind/body/spirit” as a way to say the same thing the ancient Hebrews said using “heart.” How does knowing that change the way you read this psalm?

Try praying this psalm a few times each day–perhaps in the morning, at lunchtime, and before bed–for the rest of this week. How does that change your outlook on your day, your work, your commute, your family, your leisure? When you’re consciously seeking God, what do you see differently?