This week’s feature story
was written by
Jim Teague, First Pres director of communications
by Richard Jones
I need to witness miracles today—
FPCE’s own Richard Jones had his poem “Miracles” published as part of this week’s daily Lenten email devotionals from the Biola University Center for Christianity and the Arts. It is reprinted here with permission. ©2022 All Rights Reserved.
I never used to celebrate–let alone understand–the concept of Lent.
Raised in a family that barely made it to church on Christmas or Easter (let alone any other time of the year), it just wasn’t part of my life experience.
When I came to believe in Jesus, I was attending a small, independent church that had been formed in, and grown out of, the Jesus Movement of the 1970s. To put it plainly, our pastors were recovering hippies!
It wasn’t until I came to Illinois in the late 1980s that I first experienced a community of faith where the season of Lent was formally observed. Honestly, I found it uncomfortable to adopt a proper attitude toward it. The idea of Lent, with its fasting and sober reflection, felt very “Olde Churche” to me. Almost puritanical. It felt like a kind of transactional legalism.
Ever had to wear a burlap sack?
I was in a non-religious college organization where one of our rituals involved wearing a burlap sack as an undershirt for a few days. This was in the B.C. time of my life (Before Christ) and I chalk up my willingness to do such silly things to the foolishness of youth. Enough said.
My point is the burlap was uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable. The initiates of the group I was joining were told we had to wear it as a reminder of our commitment to the organization and to one another. I suspect the real reason was because the ones who came before us had to do it when they joined, so why shouldn’t we?
When I first began trying to incorporate Lenten disciplines into my faith walk, they felt like that burlap sack. Fasting? I had practiced fasting many times before but recoiled at the idea of having to do it just because the calendar said so.
These days, I have a vastly different perspective on Lent. Rather than seeing it as duty or forced contrition, I try to celebrate it as a walk with Jesus to the Cross. I’m by no means perfectly consistent, but I seek to spend time each day during Lent reading and thinking about what was taking place with him and his disciples in those weeks leading up to the Last Supper, the Garden, and the Cross. I don’t spend it in a pious, morose way, but rather walk through the season as a time of intimacy with Jesus and a sort of “sharpening” time for my spiritual disciplines.
What brought about the change in my thinking and approach to Lent?
I got a job at First Pres.
The staff and congregation here helped me look at Lent as a celebration, much in the same way we do during Advent. FPCE has a tradition of worship, study, and devotionals which are intentionally shaped together to guide us to the pinnacle of the Christian year: The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus on Easter Sunday!
Last year, with COVID-19 in a waning period, we were able to make Easter Sunday our first in-person, indoor gathering for worship in over a year. It was awesome!
This year, we are back in person (and, as always, online). Our teaching series throughout Lent is called “Walking the Path: Choices for every disciple of Jesus” and is all about the decisions we make and the disciplines we develop in our walk with Christ. You can click here to find a description of the teachings to come and links to the previous sermon podcasts.
I have always (and I do mean always) struggled with living a disciplined life. All you must do is stop by my office here at FPCE to see the kind of chaos that seems to encircle me. Were it not for my having married a true Proverbs 31 woman, my home life would likely be much the same (or worse).
Easily distracted from walking the path God places before me, I regularly find myself trudging through the bogs of worldly temptation, the high weeds of self-centeredness, and the dusty gravel shoulders of the road conforming my thinking to the world’s goals rather than those of the Kingdom of God.
This week’s sermon, brought by Senior Pastor Ray Hylton, is pulled from Philippians 3:17–4:1, and the theme is “Stand Firm.” I used to think that I had to live a disciplined life to be convinced of God’s love for me and sure of my eternal salvation. In my time at First Pres, I have come to learn (again and again) that the disciplines are not there for me to prove my faith and salvation, but rather to hold me fast and redeem what Christ has already accomplished through his life, death, and Resurrection.
Last Sunday, Ray used the image of the pulpit being constructed to hold his tall frame and talked about how he was confident in the skill and wisdom of the builder of the pulpit, and how that confidence allowed him to stand there knowing it wasn’t going to crumble to pieces or fall over in the middle of his teaching.
The disciplines are God’s way of imparting His skill, strength, and wisdom into our lives; not a demand for perfection, but rather tools we can use to strengthen our daily living and allow us to confidently proclaim the risen Christ and install peace in a world which desperately needs it but rarely seeks it.
Please join us this Sunday at 9:30 AM for our weekly worship service, in person or online, and avail yourself of our adult education class, the Biola daily devotional emails, and other events like our Taizé services throughout this wonderful season.
Thank you, First Pres, for reshaping my view of Lent from one of duty into one of joyous expectation!