Grace Church Connections

Grace Church Connections

Relationship, not Religion.

You can scroll the shelf using and keys

50/50 Prayers

March 9, 2018

Grace 50/50 Prayer

Faithful and gracious God, we know that you are not slow to fulfill your promises. We humbly come before you in agreement asking you to bring us 50 new families in 50 weeks. Enable us, by the power of your Spirit, to invite and welcome new people into our community. Prepare our hearts, that we would receive your blessings with joy, giving you honor and glory and praise. Amen.

  1. For the Mission of the Church (BCP, p816)

 

Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you
through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him,
that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope
of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Prayer for MIssion – Morning Prayer Rite II (BCP, p100)

 

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the
earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those
who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people
everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the
nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh;
and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer for Mission – Morning Prayer Rite II (BCP, p101)

 

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on
the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within
the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit
that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those
who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for
the honor of your Name. Amen.

Collects for Various Occasions – #16 For the Mission of the Church (BCP p257)

 

O God of all the nations of the earth: Remember the
multitudes who have been created in your image but have not
known the redeeming work of our Savior Jesus Christ; and
grant that, by the prayers and labors of your holy Church,
they may be brought to know and worship you as you have
been revealed in your Son; who lives and reigns with you and
the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

See more prayers on our website – http://www.gracechurchsa.org/worship/5050-prayers

 

Agreement in Prayer

March 9, 2018

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. – Mt 18:19

 

 

What does it mean to be in agreement? The best analogy I can think of is a big huge rowboat. We’re all in the same boat. The captain says we need to go North. Now we each must choose to agree or disagree with the captain. There are almost limitless ways to disagree: murder the captain, jump out of the boat, refuse to row, throw people overboard,  and on and on.

pexels-photo-213194.jpeg

But there is only one way to agree. Row the damn boat.

But we can’t each row on our own, or the boat goes nowhere. We have to row together, in the same direction, at the same time, for the boat to move.

If only a few people row and everyone else watches, the rowers will tire before the boat even gets close to the destination.

If some people row one direction, some people row another direction, and some people just use their paddles to splash each other, the boat won’t even move.

If half the people row one direction and half the people row the other direction, there is a lot of sweat and effort going on but no movement.

If half the people row one direction and the other half don’t row at all, then the boat looks like it’s moving but it’s only going in circles.

We must all row in the same direction, at the same time, together. That’s the only way to move the boat, the only way to get where we want to go.

This is what it means to be in agreement in prayer. Not just nodding our heads or saying the words. Not just agreeing for the sake of agreement. But sitting side-by-side, gritting out teeth, and rowing together in the same direction.

 

50/50 Prayer Campaign – strategy

February 21, 2018

Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask,it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. – Mt 18:19

WE DO OUR PART

  1. Pray
    1. Read “My Friend Grace” @ gcsa.me/blog
    2. Agree in Prayer @ gcsa.me/IAgree
    3. Wear your “I Agree” prayer bracelet
    4. Father Jay will write an original 50/50 prayer for us to pray
    5. Pray during the week
    6. Pray in your Story Group
    7. New 50/50 prayer at worship
    8. Participate in the day of prayer on Good Friday
    9. More prayer opportunities coming in Summer and Fall
  2. Prepare
    1. Vestry will create a StoryBrand marketing platform
      1. clear, concise story of our “brand”
      2. 1 minute “elevator pitch” everyone can use
    2. Update website
    3. Update internal communication to Gracers
    4. 3 “Bring a Friend” worship events
      1. April 8 – Abide in Me series starts
      2. June 3 – Summer series starts
      3. Aug 26 – back to school kick-off
    5. Update Sunday morning signage
    6. Improve Children’s Ministry
    7. Add more Story Group leaders for Fall
    8. Other new ideas

GOD DOES GOD’S PART

  1. Lord, hear our prayer
  2. God will do what we cannot.

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God  who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, – Deut 7:9

My Friend Grace

February 21, 2018

Let me introduce you to my friend, Grace. Most of you know her already. So you know how wonderful she is. She is smart and funny and creative and kind. She loves children and spends a lot of her time helping others. Grace likes to try new things and always smiles at strangers. Best of all, Grace loves Jesus. And Grace loves people.

Grace has been growing for a while now. It’s sometimes hard to believe she’s almost 10. Ten years old! Where does the time go. I remember when she was born: July 1, 2008. I can see it like it was yesterday. She was so little and cute. She spent the next few years growing like children do, a little here, a little there, not so you would notice it from one day to the next. But when you compared her birthday pictures from one year to the next, you could really see the difference.

Grace is strong and beautiful. She’s healthy, happy, and hopeful. She’s always learning new things and taking that next step. I love her. You love her. And she loves you.

But Grace has a problem.

It’s time for her to leave the nest. She’s ready to fly, to take that next big step off the edge into tomorrow.  She can’t stay a child forever. And as her Uncle Paul says, “when you become a grown-up, you have to put away childish ways” (1 Cor 13;11). Grace needs to keep growing in order to become who God has created her to be.

Thankfully, Grace has good people to help guide her into the next stage of her life. She has surrounded herself with smart, capable leaders who care about her and want the best for her. And we have a plan. Our plan comes straight from the Lord God, out of the mouth of Jesus, through the Bible, into us. “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven” (Mt 18:19).

Again I say to you. Jesus was trying to teach his followers something important here. And like any good teacher, or parent for that matter, He repeats himself for emphasis. Did you really hear what I just said? Let me say it again to make sure.

If two of you agree. To agree with someone doesn’t just mean to wag your head and say yes. It’s one thing to agree that parachutes work when you’re sitting safely in your living room. It’s another thing entirely to strap one on and jump out of a plane. To agree in prayer is to take that leap. It is wholehearted commitment that involves risk, sacrifice, and effort. We don’t agree in prayer with our lips. We agree in prayer with our lives.

We, Grace’s chosen leaders, are calling on you, counting on you, her friends, her family, to agree with us in prayer.

Our prayer is bold, maybe even audacious. It will certainly leave us knowing God has answered our prayer. Because only God can do this. We can’t. It’s impossible for us. But we know that all things are possible for God. So we are praying that God will bring 50 new families to Grace in 50 weeks. We’re calling it the 50/50 Prayer Campaign. And it’s already started.

The 50/50 Prayer Campaign started in worship on Jan. 21 when everyone present agreed in prayer. We agreed to ask God to bring us a professional youth minister, that God would enable our leaders to step out boldly in Faith beyond our budget, and that God would bring us the money to back up that Faith and pay this youth minister.

God has answered all three of those prayers.

Again, I say to you, God has answered our prayers.

Our vestry decided unanimously to trust God to provide the financial means to support the vision God had given us. For the first time ever, we chose to move beyond our budget. Prayer answered.

We have hired a game-changing, professional youth minister with 20 years of experience to be our Youth Evangelist. His name is Glenn Meschko, he and his family live in Boerne, and he started on Sunday. Prayer Answered.

In two short weeks, Jan. 21 – Feb. 4, without a single request being made, God moved the hearts of His people and brought us an additional $18,000. That’s right. Eighteen thousand dollars. Which is actually two thousand more than we needed. Just to show us how generous He is in response to our agreement in prayer, God gave us more than we even asked for. PRAYER FREAKING ANSWERED, BABY!

Now we are calling you, the family and friends of Grace, to stand in agreement in prayer with us that God would bring 50 new families to Grace in 50 weeks.

 YES, I AGREE.                        No, I do not agree.

To agree means you will pray with us, serve with us, give with us, risk with us, grow with us. To agree means you willingly accept the uncomfortable nature of change that will result from our success. To agree means you will recognize and glorify God for what He is doing — what He alone can do — in and with and through Grace.

Now, if we fail in this, then we will lose staff positions next year. Which means we lose the mission and ministry they would be able to provide. Which means we will lose families, as well as potential families. Which means we will lose opportunities to serve and grow and worship and share our faith. Which means we will not be carrying out our mission.

But if we succeed… If we succeed in this, we will be transformed by the presence and power of God. We will be transformed by engaging God in prayer in a deeply profound way. Grace will be transformed because she will double in size. This will enable us to fund our youth minister position in 2019 and beyond. We will be able to bring on a Women’s Minister, greatly improve our Children’s Ministry, and cover the expenses of using our new building.

So the Lord be with you. Let us pray.

 

Stepping into Our Future

October 11, 2017

A group of sixteen Grace leaders gathered at Melanie Geist’s office last Saturday to think, plan and pray for the next stage of growth for Grace Church. Their focus was to create a vision of what and who for Grace’s future. It was a fun and interesting process led by Brad Hunt, a business consultant and Christian who has served as a leader in two different church plants.

We began the day with a Bible study on John 15:1-17 and discussed what it meant for us, as individuals and as a community, to abide in Christ. Then we spent some time in prayer. This encounter with God’s Word and God’s Presence prepared us to seek God in the midst of our work together.

Thus prepared, Brad led us to envision our ultimate goal: Grace Church with 600 vibrant, active partners in the gospel. And while the national average for worship attendance is 40% of your active members, we envision 400 people at worship, which is 66%, because we want vibrant, active partners not boring pew fodder.

He then asked us to imagine WHAT that would look like, this Grace with 600 partners and 400 people in worship. We filled up a white board describing this future Grace. It looks like this: White Board

You would think the natural next step would be to work on how we were going to get to our new vision. But because we are a faith community and not a business, Brad led us in a different direction. He asked us to envision WHO we would need in our community to flesh out our WHAT. For example, if you are going to start a restaurant (what) then you need a cook, waitress, busboy, cashier, hostess, and bartender (who). So we asked ourselves who we would need in leadership, as volunteers and on staff. We came up with over a hundred different ideas for WHO.

Then we grouped them into categories to help us think about it strategically. The list we came up with looks like this: Green Cards

Lastly, Brad called us to rate the importance of all the different WHO categories. This would give us a clear picture of where we should start to pursue our new WHO. Each person got two votes, except for Ron. Sixteen leaders, two votes each, total of 32 votes.

The results were interesting and encouraging. There was a clear delineation in the answers. Check it out:

  1. PR/Marketing/Visibility – 14 votes
  2. A More Impactful Youth Ministry – 6 votes
  3. Women’s Ministry – 3 votes
  4. Children’s Ministry – 2 votes
  5. Worship Producer – 2 votes

These are the core concepts our leaders have chosen for us to focus on in 2018. These core concepts will infuse our stewardship, impact our budget, and guide our planning. These concepts are not Jay’s ideas, or the Bishop’s ideas, or some scruff we found on the internet. These concepts are what our leaders have chosen as we seek to abide in Christ.

Our next steps are to develop some next steps and to pray. The Bishop’s Committee, working with a few key outside leaders, will develop a strategic plan that answers the question HOW for our WHO and WHAT. This process will take a 3-4 months to complete. In the mean time, we each have a next step to take now. We must begin to pray for the future of Grace Church. We must turn these words on paper into words of prayer.

Our prayer becomes: “Lord, bring us people who will improve our PR/Marketing/Visibility to others. Lord, bring us people who will create a more impactful youth program. Lord, bring us people who will serve as key lay leaders in children’s ministry, women’s ministry and worship production. Lord, bring us people  to grow into a community of 600 vibrant, active partners in the gospel. Lord, bring us people, by the power of your Spirit and to the glory of your Name. Amen.”

 

Give God One Day

April 1, 2017 1 Comment

 

Good Friday Challenge

As part of our 50/50 Prayer Campaign,

I am calling Grace Church to a Day of Prayer & Fasting

on Good Friday, March 30.

I challenge you to Give God One Day.

The purpose of Give God One Day is to call us into a deeper relationship with our Lord as we share in His suffering by deliberately walking through Good Friday on our way to Easter Morning. We should expect God to reveal Himself to us more fully as we more fully dedicate ourselves to Him. We should expect God to reveal more of ourselves to us, as well.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. – Mt 7:7-8

This is a challenge. It won’t be easy. But it will be worth it. The Good Friday Challenge is comprised of six separate, yet related, areas of spiritual discipline. They are:

  1. Day Off
  2. Prayer
  3. Fasting
  4. Scripture
  5. Worship
  6. Devotion

#1 – Take the day off from work, school, and housework.

Take a personal day. Take a vacation day. Call in sick if you have to, but take the day off and give it to God. This may not be possible for everyone, I get that, but take a chance and stretch yourself. Whether you work outside of the home, or work from home, attend school, or stay at home your work will still be there on Monday. Here’s some suggestions:

  • Plan ahead – any work due on Friday or Saturday needs to be done by Thursday
  • Students – make a plan for when you will do your homework (but let’s be honest, it’s not like you were going to do any homework on a Friday anyway).
  • Don’t check your email – make sure your workplace can get in touch with you in case of an emergency, but don’t check your email. You’ll just get sucked into the black hole of busy-ness.
  • Stay-at-home moms & dads and people who work from home – This will be harder for you than for people who work outside of the home. Those folks go to work, so they can avoid work by not going to the workplace. You don’t have that luxury. You live in your workplace. It becomes even more important for you to prepare ahead of time, or you will find yourself distracted by all the things you can see need to be done.
    • Do your house chores Mon-Thur
    • Stay out of your home office

#2 – Spend Time in Prayer

Spend some time in prayer, more time than usual. Use your own books or online resources and devotionals. Or make up your own prayers. Use the 50/50 prayers from the Grace Connections blog – www.gcsa.me/5050prayer. Or walk the stations of the cross at GraceLand.  We have 7 series of prayers for the stations of the cross available for you. All you need to do is click and download the .pdf documents from the website.

Find the prayers at : www.gracechurchsa.org/worship/prayer-trail or www.gcsa.me/pray.

The prayer series are:

  1. Stations of the Cross
  2. Prayers for Good Friday
  3. Prayers for Those in Need
  4. Prayers for Those We Love
  5. Prayers for Others
  6. Prayers for an Individual
  7. Prayers of Thanksgiving

#3 – Day of Fasting

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer lists only two days in the whole year as days of fasting: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Though we have largely forgotten fasting as a spiritual discipline, it is still a practice recommended for all Christians.

Because this is new to us at Grace, I am providing several different types and levels of fasting for us to choose from.  There is a fast for children, and one for teens. There are several fasts for adults, and even some alternative fasts. I encourage you to begin slowly if you have never fasted before.

Click here to choose your fast: www.gcsa.me/fast

1“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven…. 16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Mt 6:1, 16-18

#4 – Read Scripture

Read Ch 26, “The Hour of Darkness” in The Story.

Or read the crucifixion narratives in each of the four gospels

#5 – Attend Worship

Attend one of the Good Friday worship services in All Saints Chapel. Service times are 12:00 and 7:00 pm.

Good Friday Worship

Good Friday worship is characterized by prayer and silence. It is simple, yet powerful. There is no music. We neither celebrate nor serve communion. We dim the lights and forego the use of technology. It is a chance for each of us to kneel at the foot of the cross. We do not have childcare during the Good Friday services.

About the Liturgy
The Friday before Easter Day, on which the church commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus. It is a day of fasting and special acts of discipline and self-denial. The liturgy of the day includes John’s account of the Passion gospel, a solemn form of intercession known as the solemn collects (dating from ancient Rome), and optional devotions before the cross (commonly known as the veneration of the cross). The eucharist is not celebrated in the Episcopal Church on Good Friday.

#6 – Acts of Special Devotion

This sounds pretty religious. But it’s really just finding a different way to connect with God. Be creative. Use your environment. Use your gifts & talents. Here are some suggestions:

  • Movies – watch a film that makes you think about God, whether or not it is an overtly Christian film
    • The Passion of the Christ (not recommended for children)
    • Episodes 8 & 9 of The Bible mini-series
    • Facing the Giants (Kinda’ cheesy, but not horrible. Jay has several copies. It’s not available to stream on Netflix, only on DVD)
    • The War – featuring Kevin Costner & Elijah Wood (contains some graphic language)
    • Remember the Titans – starring Denzel Washington
    • The Prince of Egypt – animated story of Moses, excellent for children
  • Service
    • Call your local animal shelter. Ask how you can volunteer on Friday.
    • Call the food bank. Ask how you can volunteer on Friday.
  • Activities
    • Walk the Prayer Trail at GraceLand.
      • Bring your Story Group. Bring your family. Or come on your own.
    • Go on a hike with your family. Thank God for His creation.
  • Spiritual Reading
    • Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
    • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
    • The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
    • Jesus with Dirty Feet by Don Everts

Good Friday Fast

April 1, 2017 1 Comment

WHY ARE WE DOING THIS? WHAT’S THE GOAL?

1“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven…. 16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Mt 6:1, 16-18 

“Throughout Scripture, fasting refers to abstaining from food for spiritual purposes” (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 48). Fasting is an ancient spiritual discipline, practiced by Christians since the founding of the Church. As you can see in the quote above, Jesus assumes his followers will fast because he twice says, “when you fast”. He doesn’t say, “if you fast” or, “should you fast” but, “when you fast”. So the first reason for fasting is that our Lord, Jesus, expects us to do so.

The second reason for fasting is to enable us to focus on God. “Fasting must forever center on God. It must be God-initiated and God-ordained…. Every other purpose [for fasting] must be subservient to God…. If our fasting is not unto God, we have failed…. John Wesley declares, ‘First, let it [fasting] be done unto the Lord with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven…'” (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 54-55).

Another reason for fasting is that fasting reveals hidden truths about ourselves to us. “More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface” (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 55).

Part of why we are fasting on Good Friday is to prepare us for Easter Sunday. By fasting, we share in some small way in Christ’s suffering on the cross. By sacrificing, we share in His sacrifice for us. When we give our meal time to God, we allow ourselves to experience more deeply the power of Good Friday. How much more precious then will be Easter morning!

HOW TO FAST – Some Fasting Recommendations

  • Plan ahead. Do something to connect with God during the time you would usually be eating. Give God your meal times. Pray, read Scripture, attend worship. Don’t just skip a meal; that’s dieting, not fasting.
  • Recognize true hunger.  “You will probably feel some hunger pangs or discomfort before the time is up. That is not real hunger; your stomach has been trained through years of conditioning to give signals of hunger at certain hours. In many ways, the stomach is like a spoiled child, and a spoiled child does not need indulgence, but needs discipline…. You must not give in to this ‘grumbling.’ Ignore the signals, or even tell your spoiled child to calm down, and in a brief time the hunger pangs will pass. If not, sip another glass of water and the stomach will be satisfied. You are to be the master of your stomach, not its slave” (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 57).
  • Beware of hangry. Many people feel angry when they get hungry. Hangry is the popular term for this. The best way to counteract feeling hangry is to pay attention. Look for it. Name it. Recognize your feelings. Remind yourself that you control your emotions; they don’t have to control you. It may be that you are using food to cover up anger. God might use fasting to draw this to your attention.
  • Drink lots of water.  You take in more water than you realize from food, so you need to replace that water intake by drinking extra water.
  • Limit your caffeine intake. If you can go without caffeine for the duration of your fast, then do so. If not, then limit your caffeine intake by substituting water or fruit juice for your typical beverage.
  • Do not exercise. When you exercise, you burn calories. If you burn too many calories without taking in any additional calories from food, your body skips the hunger stage and goes straight to starvation mode. This may leave you feeling dizzy, lightheaded, and nauseous. This is not fun, and makes it almost impossible to maintain a fast. You will have a much better chance of completing your fast if you skip the exercise for the duration of your fast.
  • Consult your doctor. If you have any sort of ongoing medical condition, health concern or illness, then you ABSOLUTELY MUST CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR before taking on a fast. Don’t assume you can’t fast. But also don’t assume you should. Check with your doctor and follow his/her advice.
  • Food with medicine. If you regularly take medicine that needs to be taken with food or after eating, THEN CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE FASTING. Figure out what you can and/or should eat in order to take your medicine. Don’t assume you can skip your medication for a day. Don’t assume that it is safe or useful to take your medication without following the instructions.

SEVERAL TYPES OF FASTS – Choose one that works for you

Fast for Children

As we discussed the idea of our day of prayer & fasting, the staff at Grace wanted to find a way to include our younger children. We don’t want to make parents’ jobs any harder than they already are. Nor do we want to create any food issues for the kids. This is what we came up with:

  • Fast from sweets and desserts – Let your kids know that no one in the family will eat any sweets or dessert on Good Friday. No cookies, candy, cake, cupcakes, ice cream, etc.. Make sure they know you are doing this with them. Move any sweets out of children’s sight. Explain to them why your family is doing this.

Fast for Teenagers

Teenagers deserve special consideration for our Good Friday Challenge. Their bodies are already burning a ton of calories just growing. And many of them participate in athletics or other activities that require their bodies to burn even more calories. So we thought of a special fast that accounts for their unique requirements.

  • Fast from meat and fish – This allows teenagers to still take in the necessary calories from carbohydrates. It also allows them to take in protein from eggs, beans and rice. Yet it requires them to give up something significant that is a normal part of their meals. They (and their parents) will need to plan ahead for meals that exclude meat and fish.

Fasts for Adults

  • 6 hour fast
    • 10:00 am through 4:00 pm
    • Miss 1 meal – lunch
    • Break your fast with dinner on Friday, 4/14
  • 13 hour fast
    • Sunrise @ 7:09 am through sunset @ 8:01 pm
    • Miss 2 meals – breakfast and lunch
    • Break your fast with dinner after 8:01 pm on 4/14
  • 24 hour sunset fast
    • Sunset on 4/13 @ 8:00 pm through sunset on 4/14 @ 8:01 pm
    • Miss 2 meals – breakfast and lunch
    • Eat dinner before 8:00 pm on Thursday, 4/13
    • Break your fast with dinner after 8:01 pm on Friday, 4/14
  • 24 hour sunrise fast
    • Sunrise on 4/14 @ 7:09 pm through sunrise on 4/15 @ 7:08 am
    • Miss 3 meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner
    • Break your fast with breakfast after 7:08 am on 4/15
  • Juice fast
    • Apply to any of the above time frames
    • Replace eating meals with “juicing” vegetables and/or fruit or drinking smoothies
    • Break your fast with meal appropriate to the time frame you have chosen

Alternative Fasts

If medical concerns prohibit you from fasting from food. Or if the fasts listed above just seem like too much. Then rather than ignoring the idea of fasting all together, consider an alternative fast. These alternative fasts can also be done in conjunction with any of the above fasts.

  • Phone Fast – Turn off your cell phone for 12 or 24 hours. Don’t put it on silent. Turn it off and leave it alone.
  • Social Media Fast – Ignore all of your social media for 24 hours. Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. Snapchat. Linked In. Blogs. And whatever else is out there. Pretend it simply doesn’t exist.
  • Deodorant Fast – Go without deodorant for 24 hours. See if your family and friends still hug you. KIDDING! THAT’S A JOKE, PEOPLE. Please don’t do this. Your loved ones will thank you.
  • Screen Fast – No screen time for 24 hours. This means no phone, tablet, computer, TV or movies. Don’t look at any screens for a whole day.
  • News Fast – Are you a news junkie? Consider taking a day off from all of your news sources. Go 24 hours without taking in any news.
  • Negative Fast – Could you go 24 hours without complaining? Can you cut out sarcasm, put-downs, and negativity from your vocabulary? Go 24 hours without saying anything negative.
  • Sports Fast – No Spurs. No baseball. No ESPN. No blogs. Go 24 hours without watching, listening, reading or doing anything that connects to sports.

DON’T BE A PHARISEE

Remember our tag line: relationship, not religion. This is between you and God. Challenge yourself. Push yourself. Don’t be afraid to make yourself uncomfortable. But remember Grace. There is room for mercy here. So be gentle with yourself, especially if this is the first time you have fasted. This is not a test of your self-discipline. It’s not a measure of willpower or the practice of goal-setting. This is about connecting with God in a new and powerful way. Stay focused on Jesus. Allow fasting to be another tool you use to strengthen the foundation of your Faith.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Foster, Richard. “Celebration of Discipline.” Harper Collins, San Francisco. 1978.

Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down

February 28, 2017

Ring around the Rosie,

Pocket full of posies,

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

Remember that one from kindergarten? Back when falling down was fun?

It seems pretty much everyone has heard the explanation that this nursery rhyme originated with the plague in 14th Century Europe. Even the good people at Snopes.com. They tell us this bit of children’s doggerel has nothing to do with the Black Death, at all. You can read their explanation here – http://www.snopes.com/language/literary/rosie.asp/

“Ring around the Rosie” may not be about the plague, but it does seem to fit Ash Wednesday pretty well. Imagine, if you will, this poem as a metaphor for life. Remember playing it as a kid. Holding hands, spinning in a circle, then dropping to the floor and laughing like a loon the whole time. Good times.

“Ring around the Rosie, pocket full of posies” — Singing, dancing, laughing, playing — this is living.

“Ashes, ashes, we all fall down” — collapsing to the ground in a heap — this is also living.

Because no matter how great our denial, no matter how hard we pretend otherwise, no matter how much time and money and energy we spend, life on this planet comes to an end. For each of us. For everything. Dying is simply another part of life.

That’s why we impose ashes to begin Lent. As a reminder. The ashes remind us of our mortality. They remind of us our basic createdness, thus pointing us back to the Creator. Which is exactly what Lent is supposed to do.

 

So let’s talk about Lent. Lent is the 40 day season on the liturgical calendar between (the season after) Epiphany and Easter. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). You might notice there are 46 actual days on the calendar between Ash Wednesday and Easter. That’s because you don’t count Sundays as part of Lent. Lent is a season of fasting and penitence. And Sundays are always days of feasting and joy, Sundays are the Lord’s day, 1/52nd of Easter. So you remove the 6 Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter and end up with 40 days. Not insignificantly, these 40 days mirror the 40 days of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness (Mk 1:12-13), the 40 days Moses spent on the mountain with the Lord (Ex 24:18), the 40 days it rained on Noah (Gen 7:12) and even the 40 years Israel spent in the desert (Deut 8:2).

Lent is a season of penitence and fasting. It is a time of re-collection, when once again we remind ourselves of who our selves really are. Lent is a season of humility. Not bad-relationship, wipe-your-feet-on-me, barely hidden self-loathing kind of humility (which isn’t humility at all, but a perverse inversion of pride). But a truly biblical humility where we recognize  we are not the center of the universe, others don’t exist for our pleasure and we are not God. As the fabulous Pastor Warren has said, “It’s not about you.” Biblical humility involves knowing that we are creature, created and creating, yet not Creator. (Here’s a quick way to check and see if you are God: speak something into being from nothing. If it works, ascend immediately to your heavenly throne. If it doesn’t, get in line with the rest of us to receive your ashes.)

Ashes are a sign of mortality and penance. We are marked with a cross of ashes on Ash Wednesday to remind us of our own certain demise. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. From dust we were formed (Gen 2:7) and to dust we shall return.

Penitence is the act of recognizing our wrong-doing and working to set it right. If you cannot directly amend that which you have broken, then do something else in its place. Acts of service, or devotion, or prayer can all be penance. We’re not talking about self-flagellation, we’re talking about a sacred apology.

Fasting is the act of giving up something in order to grow spiritually. If you give up meat in order to lose weight, that’s not a fast. That’s a diet. If you give up caffeine in order to break your addiction to Diet Coke, that’s not a fast. That’s torture. Fasting is letting go of one thing in order to gain a closer relationship with God. There are all sorts of Fasts, and you can learn more about Fasting in my post “Fast food Fast”.  https://revjayg.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/fast-food-fast/

 

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and
meditating on God’s holy Word.

(1979 Book of Common Prayer, p265)

Into a Bag with Holes

February 18, 2017

In Ch. 19 of The Story, fifty thousand of God’s people return from captivity in Babylon to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The work begins with excitement and enthusiasm. When the foundation is laid, the old timers weep with remembrance of Solomon’s temple. But opposition from neighboring tribes builds. Dissension within the leadership stalls the project. Years go by with no further work on the temple being completed. Instead of looking to God, the people look to themselves and build their own homes. Then the word of the Lord comes to them through the prophet Haggai.

It took me a while to understand what God was trying to tell us in this chapter. The history was interesting, but not the point. As I read it again, the prophecy of Haggai began to make sense to me. Then it really began to make sense. Then I got it. Haggai is not only speaking to Israel, Haggai is speaking to us.

 

The story of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem is not about rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. It is not about the history of Israel, or about the religious tolerance of the kings of Persia. The story of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem is the story of rebuilding God’s people.

Why does God ask them to rebuild the temple? Is he a creature who needs a dwelling place? Is he a human who needs a bed and a couch and a roof over his head?

Thus says the Lord. Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What is the house that you would build for me? And what is the place of my rest? – Isa 66:1

God created the universe from nothing. He spoke the earth into being. His hands shaped the mountains. His strength pushed back the waters.

For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In His hand are the caverns of the earth; the heights of the hills are his also. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land. – Ps 95:4-5

Is the One who hung the stars in the heavens impressed with our construction? He says to the mountain “rise up”; He tells the wind “go there”.

All these things my hand has made and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in Spirit and trembles at my word. – Isa 66:2

The Lord doesn’t need a house. God is not impressed by our efforts. He tells them to build the temple so He may be worshipped and glorified. He tells them to build that He may delight in their devotion. He tells them to build so they will seek him first, making Him a priority.

But the work is difficult. There is opposition. Their efforts to rebuild the temple slow, then stall, then stop. They turn from building God’s house to building their own houses.

 

Consider their ways, says the Lord of hosts.

You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. – Hag 1:6

Consider your ways, says the Lord of hosts.

God is not impressed by our efforts. He tells us to seek Him so He may be worshipped and glorified. He tells us to seek Him that He may delight in our devotion. He tells us to seek Him first, that we might live in abundance.

But this work is difficult. There is opposition. Our efforts to give God priority slow, then stall, then stop. We turn our focus from God to ourselves.

We have sown much, and harvested little. 44% of Americans feel more stressed today than they did five years ago. 20% of us live in extreme stress. Why do choose to live this way? For cars and clothes and houses and stuff? Why do we accept such little return on the investment of our very lives? Why, when God has a better way? Jesus says, lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:20-21). 

We eat, but we never have enough; we drink, but we never have our fill. 66% of us are overweight.  34% of us report binge or heavy drinking in the last month. 15.1 million adults struggle with alcohol. If living this way makes us happy, why are we eating ourselves to death? If we find so much joy in the world, why do we drink so much to avoid it? Paul describes us like this, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Phil 3:19).

You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. How quickly our clothing stops being about us and starts being about what others think of us. We are uncomfortable in our own skin, so we cover it up. If I don’t trust God to take care of me, then I have to take care of me, then I have to look a certain way to get what I want. And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Mt 6:28-30)

And we who earn wages do so only to put them into a bag with holes. We surround ourselves with things, we fill our days with busy-ness. We buy clothes we can’t wear because we eat too much food. We feel bad about our bodies, so we drink to dull the pain. Which really only delays the pain, ’cause you know you’re gonna’ feel it tomorrow. So we go to work hungover, and we can’t concentrate, we don’t produce, so we have to work longer to earn the same paycheck that we use to go out and buy ____________ more clothes! Jesus explains our insanity, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Mt 6:24).

This is madness!  But we live in the middle of the whirlwind and we just — can’t — see it.

So what do we do to step out of the whirlwind? What do we do to open our eyes? Seek first the Kingdom of God.

We are people who “…have sown much, and harvested little. We eat, but we never have enough; we drink, but we never have your fill. We clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And we earns wages only to put them into a bag with holes.” (Hag 1:6)

What can we do to change all that? Seek first the Kingdom of God.

Do you want to sow little and harvest much? Seek first the Kingdom of God.

Do you want to eat enough and drink your fill? Seek first the Kingdom of God.

Do you want to stop worrying about how you look? Seek first the Kingdom of God.

 

Do you want to keep your wages, building up your reward for the work you have done? Then seek first the Kingdom of God!

Stop seeking first the Kingdom of YOU!

The Kingdom of you will crumble. The Kingdom of you will fall. Don’t pour out your life for the wages of this world that will be consumed like grass in a fire. Don’t seek your own glory and honor and power. For yours is the glory, oh Lord, yours is the glory and honor and power! Work for the glory of the Lord, let it be for his honor. By his power we live and move and have our being. Seek God in prayer. Devote yourselves to worship. Study the Scriptures. Serve the poor. Give your life away: your gifts, your skills, your personality, your money, your time. Give your life for the benefit of others and see how God gives it back to you tenfold.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Mt 6:33

This is not some health and wealth gospel lie. The amazing thing about seeking first God’s kingdom is the amounts don’t change. You do. God probably won’t give you more money or food or clothes. God will give you a new perspective, so you can appreciate what you have, so you are satisfied with what you have, so you can see the abundance of what God has already given you instead of always wanting more.

You know one of the definitions of a rich person? Someone who has everything he wants, everything she wants. There are two ways to look at that. One way, our way, is to have everything. The other way, God’s way, is to want only what God gives us. And the only way to do that, my friends, is to seek first the Kingdom of God.

 

_________________________________________________________________

http://www.stress.org/stress-is-killing-you/

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/Pages/overweight-obesity-statistics.aspx

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db71.htm  “Sugar drinks: For these analyses, sugar drinks include fruit drinks, sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened bottled waters, consistent with definitions reported by the National Cancer Institute (8). Sugar drinks do not include diet drinks, 100% fruit juice, sweetened teas, and flavored milks. Population estimates of sugar-drink kilocalories are based on data from one in-person, 24-hour dietary recall interview.”

The Death of Someone Else

October 20, 2016

This is taken from the Stewardship Talk given by John Green last Sunday. The story of Someone Else can be widely found on the internet. The author is unknown.

The church was saddened this past week to learn of the death of one of its most prominent members, “Someone Else.”

After being with us for so many years, Someone Else’s passing creates a vacancy that will be difficult to fill.  Someone Else did far more than a normal person’s share of the work. Whenever there was a job to do, a class to teach, or a meeting to attend, one name was on everyone’s list. Let “Someone Else” do it.

It was common knowledge that “Someone Else” was among the most generous givers in the church. Whenever there was a financial need, everyone just assumed that “Someone Else” would make up the difference.

“Someone Else” was a wonderful person – sometimes appearing to be superhuman – but one person can only do so much. Were the truth known, everyone expected too much of “Someone Else.”

Now “Someone Else” is gone. We wonder what we are going to do. “Someone Else” left a wonderful example to follow, but who is going to do the things “Someone Else” did?

We cannot simply stand by and expect someone else to lead and serve and give. You are the someone else at Grace. You are the someone else God wants to use. So am I.

I won’t leave giving up to someone else. I’m going to up my pledge. So up yours.

(Hahahahahhaha. Get it? Up yours? It’s a joke, people. But really, you can increase your giving.)