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Observing the Season of Lent

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Traditionally, the Lenten season is the entire forty-day period during which the church prepares for the celebration of Easter.  When it first emerged in church history, Lent served primarily as a time of intense instruction, fasting, and prayer for converts to the Christian faith in the days leading up to their baptism.  The practice of observing forty-days probably arose in Alexandria, Egypt in the third century as an imitation of fasts by Moses and Elijah as well as Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness following his baptism, which was celebrated on Epiphany (January 6) by Christians in the eastern Roman empire.  Following the council of Nicea (325 A.D.), the forty days of Lent were shifted to the period leading up to Easter, which became the annual day for administering baptisms in many churches.  This pre-Easter observance of Lent quickly became the universal Christian practice.  Eventually Lent became a discipline observed by the whole church and not simply new converts.

Lent is a season of reflection and self-examination, of self-denial and repentance, of reconciliation and spiritual growth as we meditate on the life of Jesus and his call for us to follow him as his disciples.  During Lent, almost all churches that follow the annual church calendar hear readings and sermons from the gospels, which tell us of Christ’s humiliation and suffering as he sacrificed himself to serve a fallen and broken world even to the point of death on a cross.  In those gospel readings, we also hear Jesus’ summons to take up our own cross and follow the path of suffering service for the sake of God’s kingdom that he first followed on our behalf as the Suffering Servant-King. 

For Jesus, this path led ultimately to his crucifixion for the sins of the world, and thus Lent culminates in Good Friday when we recount and reflect on the event of Jesus’ death on the cross.  The color purple symbolizes Jesus’ royalty (seen in the purple robe he wore as he was mocked by Roman soldiers), and the spirit of penitence that should characterize our lives as followers of this king.

While this all might sound depressing and negative, the purpose of Lent is actually quite positive and liberating.  Lent can viewed as a spiritual “spring cleaning”: a time to let Jesus inspect our lives and take a spiritual inventory.  It is a time to focus on cleaning out the sinful attitudes and habits that hinder us from following Jesus and establishing new habits and practices that enable us to experiencing the abundant life that we can find in loving and serving God.  We should, of course, repent of our sins and seek spiritual growth at all times, not just during this season.  Observing Lent simply provides a regular and corporate structure for a sort of annual retreat that gives a special focus to examination and repentance in our lives as individuals and as a church body.

As we strive to heed Jesus’ call during Lent, we must remember that our motivation and strength to follow the Lord is the hope of Easter.  Lent’s journey ends not at the cross on Good Friday but at the empty tomb on Easter.  We worship the risen and reigning Lord Jesus, and we now look back on Jesus’ death not merely as a matter for sorrow but even more as the victory of Jesus our Champion over the brokenness of the world.  And because we are united by the Holy Spirit to the resurrected Jesus, the conqueror of sin and death, we can face our own sins and weaknesses with faith and hope.  In Jesus, we know that we are forgiven and accepted by God, and we have hope for real healing and transformation in our lives.

For more information about the season of Lent and for resources to assist you in worship and spiritual growth during this season, see the Lent page under the Liturgical Calendar tab at the top of this page.

Posted by Mike Farley

Rest

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What does it mean to rest? We all know we need it, even crave it, but typically struggle with how to find it, acting like we are too tired to rest. Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30, although encouraging in concept, appear so abstract that we are not even sure what he means (please note I use the “we” intentionally). He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” How do we get to him? What do we have to trade our heavy burdens for to get his much more manageable yoke? Wait, what’s a yoke?

We took the opportunity to have this discussion a couple of weeks ago on the Student Central Ski Trip, and the result was an encouraging thing to be a part of. Imagine a room full of students, ranging from age, gender, and schools, engaging with one other, vulnerably digging down into their own hearts, and confessing a disconnect between their belief and practice when it comes to making time to spend with God and making that the place to find rest. The obstacles to them finding rest was not the surface things, like a busy schedule or a pressure to say ‘yes’ to things they do not want to do, but rather something much, much deeper. It turns out many of them believed God loved them, but struggled to believe that he liked them, and that was enough to keep them off their knees and out of the Word.

Can you relate to that? Do you agree that, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” but are not sure that God likes you and wants you hanging around? In my own life, this lie creeps in when I feel I’ve fallen so short of his standard and accumulated so much filth because of my callous heart and lack of spiritual discipline, that it angers God that I even thought I could approach him. I say things like, “I will wake up extra early tomorrow and read Leviticus, then, once I do that, I can pray again.” Ridiculous right? I submit, however, that I am not alone. What’s your story?

Allow me to point us Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” The very heart of the Gospel is grace, which is true for those of us in Christ for eternity, and every, single day. The beauty of the Gospel is that we are loved, liked, approved, and welcomed into God’s presence, not because we are worthy, but because we are in the one who is worthy, and that is Jesus Christ. Our souls find rest when we come to God, not with what we think you offer and have accomplished, but rather when we come in the confidence of the person and work of Christ.

Posted by Jeremy Blythe

3 Navigation Tips

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"Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better."  - Richard Hooker

“Status quo, you know, is Latin for 'the mess we're in'.” - Ronald Reagan

Like a house you have lived in for decades, Central's old website had accumulated a lot of "stuff," and not everything was put away where it belongs. Still, it's your house, so you could (sometimes) find what you were looking for.

Our move to a new web platform  - even though necessary - can be disorienting. Like that old house, you may love your new place and recognize the benefits of the move, but you still long for "the way things were" in some regards. In response to your questions, here are three tips (think of them as house warming gifts!) on navigating Central's new home on the web.

1. "Where's Info Central and the Sunday bulletins?"

Sunday resources have been consolidated to "Sunday @ Central," a page focused solely on the Sunday worship experience. Here you will find info on who is preaching, scripture references, links to bulletins and Info Central, and discussion questions pertaining to that week's sermon. You can access this page by clicking here.

2. "How do I watch a worship service on-line?"

Live streaming can be accessed by clicking the blue "Watch Live" button located on the middle of the home page. Alternatively, you can navigate to the live streaming page by clicking on "Resources" at the top of the home page, then selecting "Watch Live."

3. "I want to sign-up to receive Spotlight. How do I do this?"

The content for Spotlight, Central's weekly news email, isn't hosted on the website. However, you can sign up to receive Spotlight in your inbox each week by visiting our "Contact Us" page. Here, look for the orange button that says "Yes! I want to receive Spotlight." Clicking this will take you to a simple registration page where you can provide your contact information, and begin receiving this communication weekly.

New content continues to be added weekly as we work to continue development of our website. We've updated the sermons page for easier navigation, and are currently working on a similar "library" for teaching resources from women's ministry, Sunday school classes, and other sources.

 

Posted by Jeff Brown

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