Thursday, February 10, 2005


Here is a pamphlet I put together for the worship committee at my church:

Prosperity Presbyterian Church
We have determined that worship is one of our core values and a central task of our Church. As such, we desire to promote various aspects and activities of worship to the congregation. Ordinarily our emphasis falls upon God’s provision to us in the Word and the sacraments as well as our response back to him in prayer, song, confession, and offering.

Also, we occasionally set aside special days in accord with historic Presbyterianism. As a Church we are beginning to more fully recognize the liturgical seasons of the Christian calender. It’s our desire that by organizing our church year around Scriptural themes the congregation will be helped in redeeming the time, focusing their prayers, and finding both tangible and symbolic outlets to express our faith.

Every year around this time Christians from around the globe prepare to celebrate the redemption Christ brought about through his death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ at Easter. Lent is a forty-day liturgical season that is designed to assist us in that journey. It initiates perhaps the most sacred part of the Christian year. The season is characterized by various disciplines which serve to help us remember and reflect upon the sacrifice of Christ. A simple, yet wry, truth behind this is that the self-denial helps us anticipate, and delayed gratification helps us appreciate.

We pray that our congregation may use this time to reevaluate fundamental values, better appreciate the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel message, and be better prepared to walk in newness of life as the baptized people of God. In 2005, the season begins on February 9th (Ash Wednesday) and concludes on March 26th (Holy Saturday -the Saturday night before Easter).The six Sundays during Lent are never included in the forty-day count because every Sunday is to be a joyful celebration of our Lord's resurrection.

An invitation to the Journey
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross. . . (Heb 12:1-2)

We invite you to view Lent as a journey. It is a journey we make in order to attune our body and soul toward the wonder of the Easter announcement: Christ is risen! During this time our eyes are firmly planted on the example of Jesus in the wilderness. He spent that time praying and fasting in order to prepare for his public ministry. He spent forty days to confront the temptations that aspired to have him abandon his mission and calling. Likewise, as an imitation of Christ (imitatio Christi), we commit this season as our time in the wilderness.

Our Presbyterian Heritage
Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it (Deut 12:32)

The most noted fundamental aspect of Presbyterian worship is known as the "Regulative Principle of Worship." The essence of it is relatively simple: worship must be regulated by the bible. All our worship must be done in ways that are pleasing to God, and we know what is pleasing to him from studying his revelation in Scripture. This will inevitably involve a certain level of creativity and imagination on the part of the interpreter of the bible, nevertheless, it is the bible- not the fancies of our imagination- that we search. Therefore, our recognition of the Disciplines of Lent is ultimately based upon the premise that these are biblical ways of living out the teachings of Scripture.

Repentance, prayer, fasting and love are essential elements to Christian life in the church. The recognition of Lent merely provides the circumstances to live them out. For Presbyterians the formal recognition of this season has typically been considered adiaphora (that which is neither commanded or forbidden but subject to the liberty of conscience). As such, it is to be viewed as an opportunity not an obligation.

The Disciplines of Lent
Lent is characterized by a few simple practices which are approached as a way to partake in a routine and disciplined life. We call these practices the Disciplines of Lent. The traditional disciplines include:
  • Repentance and the confession of sin
  • prayer and Scripture reading
  • Fasting and deprivation
  • Works of love and charitable giving
  • Repentance and the confession of sin
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32:5)

Repentance is a gift from God involving our turning away from sin toward him. In it, we are not only allowed to see how sin is contrary to God’s nature and law, but moreover, he promises mercy in Christ. Inevitably it involves an apprehension of the danger and filthiness of sin and a determined aversion to it with a resolve to walk anew in paths of righteousness and holiness.

Repentance will often find expression in the confession of sins. This can be done either publically or privately. Here are some ways in which you might want to formally incorporate the discipline of repentance in your Lenten activities:
  • pray the general confession of sins by the congregation within the context of our Sunday morning liturgy.
  • examine your life in light of the Ten Commandments and the catechism’s interpretation of them asking God to forgive you and to lead you into ways of loving him and your neighbor more deeply.
  • make confession of your sins to a faithful friend or brother in Christ especially if he was affected negatively by something you did or if tension exists between the two of you.
    take advantage of private confession of sins to a Minister of the Gospel
  • think back on your baptism and read the confession and catechism questions on baptism and the sacraments so as to soberly and gratefully reflect upon various realities concerning baptism's nature and the privileges conferred in it.

Making time for prayer and Scripture reading
Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. (Daniel 9:3)

Prayer may be described as a part of worship in which we are drawn to God in communication. It is required by God for all people to pray as a special part of religious worship. In order for it to be acceptable, it must be made in the name of the Son, by the help of his Spirit, and according to his will. It should always be done thoughtfully with reverence, humility, and a fervency of faith, love, and hope.

Many have found it helpful to have a consistent time for it and to create a quiet place for prayer, although prayer can happen anytime and anywhere. A cross and a lighted candle may help create a sense of the "sacred" for your place for prayer. Here are some ways in which you might want to formally incorporate the discipline of prayer in your Lenten activities
  • follow the ancient Christian custom of morning and evening prayer or at specified interval during the day.
  • sign yourself with the cross saying, "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," followed by a brief moment of silence in recognition that your life is lived under the shadow of the cross in the presence of the triune God.
  • use the book of Psalms, the Ten Commandments, the Creeds or various printed prayers such as the ones in, The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions.
    to pray the Lord’s prayer each day or parts of it while reading the catechism’s interpretation of it.

    Fasting or abstaining from a simple pleasure.
    For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. I have often told you about them, and now I have tears as I say it. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with their mind set upon earthly things. (Philippians 3:18-19)

Jesus told us that when we fast we are not to make a show of it, like hypocrites do. Hence, a fast is different from a hunger strike: a fast is a personal act of devotion to God, while a hunger strike is usually a public act most often used to shine a spotlight on injustice. Neither is a fast to be some form of eating disorder. It is a disciplined diet, not a revulsion of food or our body.

Fasting is not typically a complete giving up of food all together. Frequently it is merely the giving up or limiting of a particular item or type of food (sweets, desserts, chocolate, butter, fat, eggs, etc.). Water, however, is never to be given up in a fast.

[Children under 16, people over 65, those who are ill or on medication, and pregnant women are not expected to fast. Anyone with any health questions should definitely contact their health care provider for further instruction.]

Here are some ways in which you might want to formally incorporate the discipline of fasting in your Lenten activities:
  • Don't try to be Super-saint with the fasting. If you wish to fast, start slow and do it on just Ash Wednesday and Good Friday or may be one day a week.
  • Be selective as to what days you fast, the early church fasted on Wednesdays (to commemorate His betrayal) and Fridays (to commemorate His crucifixion).
  • Fast from only a single meal rather than through the whole day or have only one simple meal during the day, possibly without meat.
  • Refrain from eating meat on Fridays in Lent, substituting fish for example.
  • Eliminate a food item or type of food for the entire season. Especially consider eliminating sweets or fatty foods.
  • Abstain from or limit a favorite activity (television, movies, etc.) for the entire season.
  • Take the time that you would ordinarily be eating and spend it in prayer to God.
Giving charitably and doing deeds of love.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. . . Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor 13:4,7).

The intention of this part of the Lenten Discipline is to connect our faith in God's love for us with actions that express love toward others in both the world and Church. This world is set on embracing parodies of love which are distorted and disfigured manifestations of what authentic humanity is meant to experience. When we as a church gather together as a peaceful and loving family in spite of our differences and difficulties and warmly embrace each member as an equal member, then a powerful message is sent. It is a message of defeat to the hidden forces of prejudice, self-interest, and suspicion at work in the world.

Here are some ways in which you might want to formally incorporate the discipline of deeds love in your Lenten activities:
  • Use Matthew 25:31-40 and Luke 4:18-19 as guides for choosing to do a work of love.
  • Go out of your way to do something nice for somebody at least once a week during Lent.
  • Make a donation for the needy or some sort of special offering for church.
  • Volunteer a portion of your time with a local service organization that serves the poor.
  • Ask how you may be able to visit a shut-in members of the church.
  • Tell others in your sphere of influence that you love them.

Beginning Your Discipline
On this journey you will need the Pax vobiscum, that is, God’s peace and presence to be with and for you. Ultimately, it is only by God the Father, in the accomplishments of the Son, applied to us by the Spirit, that we are truly provided with sustenance. So begin with prayer, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance in choosing those things that would best fit you for your Lenten Discipline. Prayerfully dedicate all your choices to God as a commitment for the six weeks of Lent, and ask that your Lenten Discipline move you closer to God for the sake of the sufferings and death of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you formally incorporate the Lenten disciplines:
  • After making your choices and beginning your discipline, it is not necessary to share your choices with anyone else. In fact, anonymity is regarded as better (Matt.6:1-7, 16-18).
  • Consider keeping a journal for Lent where you record what you will do concerning each of the disciplines and track your experience.
  • Don't be too hard on yourself, too rigorous, or too legalistic. The idea is to have a discipline that moves you spiritually closer to God, not one that focuses you solely on your discipline.
  • Breaking commitments to God is not something to take lightly but people will break the disciplines. This is also a time when we remember the mercy of God and so in prayerful song you can simply embrace the opening words of Psalm 6:2 " O Lord, have mercy on me," praying the Kyrie Eleison and start over.


Blogger Tim said...

I hope it is well received. I find the church calender does provide a healthy rhythm to the Christian life. But none of the Presbyterian churches I've been to have shown much interest in it.

February 13, 2005 at 12:10 PM  
Blogger Ron said...

Could it be that because these churches actually believe in such a thing as a Regulative Principle, and, finding no church calendar in Scripture, eschew it?
Forsooth that anyone professing to be Presbyterian would deny such a stupid statement that 'historic Presbyterians' observe Lenten seasons or pray the Kyrie!
Just go on over to Rome, fellows, and be consistent.
Or, repent.

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