What is Lent?

What is Lent?

In the years immediately following the death and resurrection of Jesus, believers began engaging in a time of focus on their sin and God’s forgiveness of that sin in advance of the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Over time, the church standardized 40 days (not counting Sundays) as a period of reflection and called it Fortieth or Lent. Like the Jewish celebration of Passover when celebrants remove yeast and all foods containing yeast, Lent was a time of removing certain foods or pleasures so one could concentrate on God.  

Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, began as a time of eating a final big meal before the forty days of fasting, prayer and restriction of pleasures. As with many traditions, Mardi Gras became secularized and became a day for overindulgence, superstition, and debauchery.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, and in many church traditions it is a time when Christians gather for corporate confession and individual repentance. At the end of the service, priests, pastors, or church leaders place ashes, in the sign of the cross, on the forehead of believers while saying “from dust you have come, to dust you will return.”

This is a reminder that one’s physical body is temporal, while the spirit is eternal. Therefore, a Christian is asked to reflect on his or her relationship with God and possibly set aside a habit or a pleasure for 40 days to help one focus on Jesus, his sacrifice on our behalf, and on his commands to worship God and love and serve others.

If you don’t yet know this Jesus whose death brings life to all who believe, please read our post, How Does One Become a Christian.

Why is the birth of Jesus “Good News”?

Why is the birth of Jesus “Good News”?

In a world where daily headlines shout bad news 24/7, there remains one story that is not just good news, but the best news for all of mankind for all time. That good news of Christmas dates back to the creation of the world by God and the creation of man, the only creature who was made in God’s image. God intended that the man and woman he created, Adam and Eve, and all of their offspring, would live in perfect harmony with Him. In this ideal world, humans would enjoy perfect fellowship with God by obeying His commands which would, in turn, allow them to experience perfect joy.

The problem is that man rebelled against God, breaking the fellowship and learning that what men and women thought would be freedom, turned into slavery to sin. That brought all the negative consequences that humans experience today–the bad news that that assaults us from without and the pain, suffering, broken relationships, lack of peace and death from within. This is the natural result of breaking fellowship with a perfect God who could not be in fellowship with imperfect humans. Their sins separated them forever from God and ensured that they would suffer throughout eternity for their continued rebellion from God. This is where the Good News breaks through.

God loved his creation so much that he provided a way for men and women to be rescued from the consequences of their sin. God asked his son, Jesus, to take on the sin of all mankind–a substitute sacrifice that would be acceptable to God. Jesus acceped the task, leaving the glory of his father in heaven to come to earth as a baby, live among sinful men, lay down his life on a Roman cross, rise from earthly death, and return to his fathers side.

Jesus, the baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, did all this so that that those who willingly accepted his substitutionary sacrifice might have their relationship to God restored. That brings with it the promise of an eternal life free of the consequences of sin. That’s the good news of Christmas, because Christmas is the celebration of the arrival of Jesus on earth in the form of a human. It’s the celebration of a life that culminates in death on a cross where the sins of all men and women–past, present and future–are paid for by the shedding of Jesus’ blood allowing us to be redeemed through the subsequent resurrection of Jesus.

What does God expect us to do with this knowledge that Jesus died in our place so we can be saved from God’s wrath against our sins? He expects us to accept the sacrifice of His son Jesus, turn away from our sin, and have faith that we will experience peace in this life and an eternity of contentment with Him. Christmas is a celebration of this good news, “For unto you a Savior is born who is Christ the Lord.” The final question is, have you believed it and accepted Jesus as your Savior? It is the most important decision a person ever makes.

If you would like to learn more about how you can enter into a relationship with the eternal God who sent his son, Jesus, we encourage you to read our blogpost: How does one become a Christian?

Merry Christmas!

Why celebrate the birth of Jesus in December?

Why celebrate the birth of Jesus in December?

The winter celebration of the birth of Christ dates first appears on a Roman calendar in 336 AD, centuries after the event took place. Scholars believe that there may have been an attempt to co-opt an existing pagan festival that marked the coming of the light after the shortest day of the year. Clues in the Bible suggest another time of year because shepherds would not likely be in the fields with sheep during the cold winter. Some scholars suggest a spring birth when lambs would have been in the fields with their mothers. Others identify fall, perhaps September as the likely month of birth. If the latter, the celebration on December 25th could mark the moment that light entered the world when God entered Mary’s womb.

When we celebrate is not nearly as important as why we celebrate. Since the beginning of time, God created mankind in his image so that he could commune with them, to let them enjoy a perfect world communicating with the creator of everything. When man and woman broke the covenant with God, the perfect world fell apart as evil reared its head and brought death and destruction to all that had been right.

A penalty had to be paid for the violation of God, and He knew that only a perfect sacrifice could atone for the great injustice of all men and women–past, present and future. God knew that the only perfect sacrifice would be himself, in the form of his son, Jesus, who was born to die. We celebrate the coming of God to be our savior and redeemer.

The baby in the manger grew up to be the sacrificial lamb for all of humankind. He died in our place that we may be pardoned and be returned to a right relationship with God. Therefore, while we celebrate the arrival of a baby born of a virgin, the true celebration is that of the birth of a savior who would provide the gateway for us to be restored to a right relationship with the almighty God of the universe.

If you would like to learn more about how you can enter into a relationship with the eternal God, we encourage you to read our blog post: How does one become a Christian?

Should a Christian be celebrating Thanksgiving?

Should a Christian be celebrating Thanksgiving?

Of course, so long as you recognize that the holiday is not a Holy Day. The traditional celebration is a national reminder of the need to thank God for the many blessings he has poured out on our nation, but its spiritual significance has long been diminished by materialism and a focus on food, family and football.

The traditional First Thanksgiving was an acknowledgement by Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower that through God’s grace some of those travelers survived the first terrible winter of freezing and starvation and were able to plant and harvest grains and vegetables that allowed the community to fluorish. They also expressed thanks to God for the help they received from nearby native communities.

Through the years, more and more English settlers arrived in the New World and harvest celebrations, like ones they celebrated in the old country, became part of their annual rituals. Throughout New England, especially, an annual Thanksgiving was proclaimed. It wasn’t until 1789 that then President George Washington, at the request of Congress called for Thursday, November 26th to be set aside as a day for prayer and giving thanks to God. Subsequent presidents, except for Thomas Jefferson, continued the tradition. Almost 75 years later, President Lincoln proclaimed Thursday, Nov. 26, 1863 as a National Thanksgiving Day. The 4th Thursday in November became the official date of Thanksgiving during the Presidency of Franklin Roosevelt.

So where does that leave Christians? Pagan harvest festivals predated and seem to form the basis for our Thanksgiving holiday. Christians don’t need a special day to thank God for his provisions, that is an everyday occurance. They also shouldn’t give the day anymore spiritual significance than any other day. But Thanksgiving does offer Christians an opportunity to reflect on God’s goodness to them in the death and resurrection of Jesus, their lord and savior. Likewise, it provides Christian moms and dads to retell the story of the first thanksgiving and how God spared the Pilgrims and allowed them to enter a long period of friendship with natives who lived nearby.

So what are you thankful for? You don’t need to have a great job, or perfect family, or new car or a big turkey dinner on Thanksgiving to realize that you probably have many reasons to be thankful. You might start by being thankful for what you have, instead of dwelling on what you don’t have.

Millions of people walk this earth with much less than you have, yet many of them enjoy contentment and are thankful for what they do have. Think about this.  If you live in America, you are already among the most blessed people on earth. And those blessings come directly or indirectly from God–the God who created everything, even you.  So take stock of your blessings and thank the God who has made them possible. Objects of your desire may fail you. People may let you down. But even if some things are not going your way right now, God still loves you, and He wants you to know contentment even in your suffering.

All that is required for true joy is a relationship with our Creator (Ps. 37:14), who does want for us to be happy and blesses us with everything we need (Phil. 4:19), even though we may not think so. When we have a good relationship with God (Prov. 10:3), like Paul, an apostle of Jesus, we will learn in whatever situation to be content (Phil. 4:11-12). We will find that the most important thing that God can give us is Himself (Eph. 2:8-9). Once we have our eyes set on God, everything else falls into place (Matt. 6:33). Thank God with your whole heart this week!

If you would like to learn more about how you can enter into a relationship with the eternal God to whom we give thanks, we encourage you to read our blogpost: How does one become a Christian?

How do we know that Jesus never sinned?

How do we know that Jesus never sinned?

The Word of God proclaims that Jesus was sinless, the perfect sacrifice.  When we trust in God’s Word, we must make a decision to trust it completely, and not pick and choose what we think is right.

In Jesus’ time, Pharisees and Sadducees were devoted followers of God’s law laid down more than 1500 years earlier. These religious leaders, who fastidiously followed a strict legal system, followed Jesus everywhere trying to find some fault in him so that they could discredit him as the Messiah. In 3+ years of spying to find fault with Jesus, often posing difficult questions designed to trip him up, they could find no sin in Jesus.

Eventually, Jesus was brought by these same religious leaders to Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea in what is present day Israel. They accused Jesus of blaspheming God by inferring that he was God, and implied that he was a threat to Roman rule. After conducting a trial of Jesus, Pilate concluded, “I find no fault in this man.” (Luke 23)

The Bible clearly explains that Jesus was Emmanuel which means “God with us.” While he was fully man he was still God who is holy and in him there is no sin whatsoever. Even when Jesus was directly tempted by the devil , we read that he did not sin. (Matthew 4:1-11)  We must therefore conclude that Jesus led a sinless life. How else would he have been able to give himself up on a Roman cross, to die for all the sins committed by men and women past, present and future? If you would like to learn more about how the death and resurrection of Jesus provides a way for you to know peace in this world and assurance of a sin-free life after death, please read our blog post: How does one become a Christian?

Why are Orthodox churches celebrating Easter this Sunday?

Why are Orthodox churches celebrating Easter this Sunday?

The celebration of the resurrection of Jesus is the most important day in the Christian calendar. That day differs in the western Christian tradition and among churches in areas of the world that have been influenced by the eastern or Orthodox tradition.

It all goes back to the Roman Empire and a division that took place one thousand years ago between Rome in the West and Constantinople in the East, the two capitals of the empire. Following the split of the government, church leaders aligned themselves with the respective governments. In what has been described as the Great Schism of 1054, the Pope-led Catholic Church in Rome excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople, leader of the Orthodox Church, who in turn excommunicated the Pope. Though now separate, the two churches agreed that believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection and acknowledging Christ as savior was central to Christianity.

For the next 500 years everyone in Christianity used the same Julian calendar and set of rules to celebrate Easter after Jewish Passover which was dictated by the Jewish lunar calendar. The problem of two dates for Easter cropped up after countries in Europe began adopting the Gregorian calendar that more accurately accounts for the vernal equinox and summer and winter solstices. The Catholic church began using the new calendar, but Orthodox churches did not even after the countries in which they were situated made the switch. So, Orthodox churches around the world will celebrate Easter this Sunday. In many countries, Egypt, for example, most non-orthodox churches follow the lead of their local Orthodox churches and celebrate Easter at the same time.

For millions of Christians, this is the week they end their 40 days of Lent. This is the week they commemorate the betrayal, trials and crucifixion of Jesus. On Sunday, they will celebrate the resurrection just as hundreds of millions of Christians did three weeks ago. The next time all Christianity will celebrate Easter on the same day will be in 2034.

Do you celebrate Easter? Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior? If you’re not sure or would like to know more about Jesus, please contact us. We would love to talk with you about how you can enjoy a renewed life and assurance of where you will spend eternity.