Lent, Week 1: An Early 40 Days (Prepare Yourself)

Yes, I looked it up. There won’t be an earlier Ash Wednesday for 19 years (February 7, 2035), or Easter for that matter. And it’s an interesting thing, that we expect Easter during this time but aren’t always exactly sure when it’ll come. So, for many of us, I’m sure this Lenten season really crept up on you!

And it’s around this time that many of us scramble for things to give up… late-night snacking, sweets, watching TV/movies, etc. Or the opposite, you find ways to supplement your daily spiritual life by reading more of the bible, attending an extra worship service or early morning prayer, etc.

But how are you really preparing for Easter?

Every Ash Wednesday we go through this routine of giving something up, maybe even going to church, and wearing a cross of ash on our foreheads. But all of these things are just actions, motions, and gestures if underneath them all there is no purpose.

Take Easter, for instance. The days leading up to Jesus dying on the cross, His actions weren’t meaningless. He prepared and He was ready. Luke 9:51 even says that Jesus RESOLUTELY set out for Jerusalem! If we’re to prepare ourselves for Easter as well, we need to be determined, have the right intentions, and get ready for the cross.

We hope that whatever it is you choose to do (or not do), you do so with purpose and do so with resolve! Do it intentionally and prayerfully for the journey ahead.

What do you intend on doing in these 40 days? Stick with it!

Reflection Song: Because Of Your Love

Lent – Prepare: Yourself (Week 1) | Others (Week 2) | Discipline (Week 3) | Your Heart (Week 4) | The Cross (Week 5) | Resurrection (Week 6) | The Way (Week 7)

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Preparation

Winter Storm Jonas – aka Snowpocalypse 2016, Snowmageddon 2016, Snowzilla 2016… A lot of records were broken with some cities on the east coast reporting over 24 inches of snow, wind gusts over 85 mph, and unfortunately even deaths.

So you tell people there’ll be a major winter storm and what do they do? They stock up on food, water, supplies, flashlights, a full tank of gas in their cars… What do you do? You prepare!

And when it comes to what we do at church, it’s no different. The preacher prepares the sermon, the worship team prepares the songs, the fellowship committee prepares the refreshments, etc. But what about the rest of us? We come to church to worship God and how do we prepare? By waking up 30 minutes before worship, scarfing down whatever breakfast we can find, and barely making it to the first song?

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were prepared to do what they needed to do when they chose to worship God instead of King Nebuchadnezzar. And Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman at the well and emphasizes that how we worship is very important, which means the way we do the how is also important. That means it’s very possible to come to church and still completely miss the whole purpose of worship!

Everything we do from the moment we step outside of Sunday worship to the very moment we step back in the following Sunday is still worship. These gatherings of “corporate worship” on Sunday are an opportunity to turn our cries of private worship into a public one… the culmination of a whole week of worshiping turned into a response when we gather together.

All that we do leading up to Sunday worship is critical – from what we watch & read before going to sleep, to the music we listen to on the car ride to church, even our attitude & spirit as we walk into the sanctuary. As the church, we have a duty to prepare for worship just as much as the preacher and worship team. Let’s not simply go through the motions and “get away” with it. Let’s constantly be in the mindset of worship so that we can be ready when we meet together again.

Reflection Song: Prepare The Way

Top 10 Posts Of 2015

It was a great year for movies, music, and of course our blog! We’d just like to take a moment to extend our gratitude as we head towards the new year. It may have come and gone all too quickly for you, but we hope you can continue along this journey with us as we share posts with you in 2016. Here are our most visited entries of 2015:

  1. It Is Finished
  2. Smiling Galaxy Cluster
  3. In The Light
  4. Temple Of Legos
  5. Perfect Love (A Valentine’s Day Blog)
  6. Love God, Love Others
  7. Post-Easter Self-Control (Fruit of The Spirit)
  8. Christ Alone, Cornerstone
  9. Epic
  10. God Our King

And here are our top posts from previous years. Thanks, everyone, and Happy New Year!

2014
2013

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (Advent #4)

Isaiah 53 tells of a Savior who comes to pay the ransom of the captives. We know now that this is the Savior we rejoice in, our Lord Jesus Christ. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is an invitational song that calls us to acknowledge the coming of this Savior. It is said that there are 7 verses to this song – one verse per day to be sung leading up to Christmas.

I love this song because its lyrics are so poetic and the music has different possibilities as well. For us, we often sing it in the major key which makes it feel more hopeful and expectant of Jesus, though you may be more familiar with the style that is a bit more minor, which I think draws a tone that is more desperate and longing for Jesus. Either way, the idea we are looking at on this fourth and final week of Advent is how we look forward to the arrival of Christ the Lord.

And it’s finally here.

With Christmas just a few days away, I’m reminded of the lyrics in one of the verses: “O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight.”

This is what we’ve been waiting for! “Dayspring”, meaning the dawn, has come and the darkness is no more because Jesus is born.

All the preparing, all the readying has led up to this moment. What we’re asking of Emmanuel (God with us) is big. This same God who has made the promise to deliver us from sin has fulfilled it by sending His one and only Son. There is no better news than this Good News, and though a baby, He is our King!

You may not be singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” every day this week but I hope in your heart you are preparing a way for the King. Though it’s often associated with Jesus’ birth, this song also hints to His second coming. I think this is a great way to tie together this Advent series… On the outside, much of what we have done (and are doing) this month may feel like “Christmas cheer” but in the end it should still be worship for the Savior of the world.

May your Christmases be filled with rejoicing as we celebrate the birth of the Lord who has come to set us free and bring joy to the world!

Reflection Song: Because Of Your Love

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Advent #3)

“Hark” means “listen” or “pay attention”. Isn’t it so easy to get distracted during Advent? We may not have the privilege of hearing angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King” like in this song but we do get to join with them and with all of creation in praising our Emmanuel, God with us!

Take a look at Luke 2:10-15. God grants us peace, just as we sing “peace on earth” thanks to Jesus, the Prince of Peace. So what does that cause us to do?

Not only is the song saying we should listen to the angels, but it actually invites us to “join the triumph of the skies”! What I’m saying is this: Christmas isn’t a passive, bystander, sideline-type event. Just follow the example of the shepherds in the passage. When they listened to the angels, it didn’t stop there – they acted upon it!

So what action is it for you today? Is it spreading the Gospel to frantic shoppers at the mall? Is it joining your local church’s caroling group? Is it helping the less fortunate on Christmas Eve/Day?

We always take this season to be a season of giving and receiving. But take a moment to “pay attention” and look further & deeper. In this season, what is this incredible peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7), causing you to do?

Let’s give glory to God in the highest!

Reflection Song: All To You

O Holy Night (Advent #2)

This week at our home church we sang “O Holy Night”, which may seem out of the ordinary since it’s a song typically sung on Christmas Eve. But the message of the song is something we can carry throughout all of this Advent season, isn’t it?

We’re always looking for a way to have a “holly jolly Christmas” when it is, in fact, a holy Christmas.

Is it holy when we get frustrated when another shopper takes our parking space? Or when you flip out when the item you’re looking for is out of stock?

While most of the time we may be running around like a headless chicken, checking off items on our shopping list, going from point A to point B to point C, etc., “O Holy Night” reminds us that we need to stop and give glory to the King. How are you spending your time leading up to Christmas?

Who knows? You could be having a great Christmas season. Or maybe you’re feeling nervous, concerned, or distressed. But consider this: we get to take part in something incredible together; looking forward to an event that is indeed a holy moment… the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Luke 2:8-11 says:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

What great news! We hope this truth brings you peace as you continue this second week of Advent. Christmas Eve may still be weeks away but that doesn’t make this song any less meaningful to us. Let’s keep preparing the way for Emmanuel, God with us, as we continue to shift our view of these popular Christmas carols.

Reflection Song: Here Today

O Come All Ye Faithful (Advent #1)

Right before the Thanksgiving/Black Friday shopping craze, I saw stores starting to sell Advent Calendars (these are charts with numbered flaps, revealing a special message, picture, or prize as you count down to Christmas). And every year, without fail, I debate whether I should buy the Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar. But this year, before I could even decide, it had already sold out online and in stores. Wow!

On this first week of Advent, we wanted to ask… How do you prepare yourself for Christmas? For many, it means getting your shopping done. Others might go all out with their lawn decorations. But the word “advent” is defined as the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event. What are we counting down to?

To Christians, Advent is the coming of Christ. We’re preparing the way and getting ready to adore our Savior whose birth we celebrate on December 25. That’s the whole “reason for the season”! I hope you’re anticipating this celebratory moment as this special day approaches. In Luke 2:15-16, the shepherds were anxious for Jesus’ birth! They couldn’t wait to come and see, to greet Him, to honor and adore Him.

So for Week 1 of Advent, feel free to begin enjoying the festivities and jolly celebrations (after all, tonight is the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting) but don’t let that eclipse what this season is to our faith. Let’s be joyful and expectant this Advent Season:

Make a way for Jesus! O come, let us adore Christ the Lord!

We hope these short weekly excerpts will help you see these Christmas “carols” in a new light as we count down to Christmas together!

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.Psalm 95:6-7

Reflection Song: You Are Greater

Love God, Love Others

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:30-31

We’re so honored to lead worship wherever we go and yesterday was no different at the leadership seminar across the bridge (George Washington, that is). It was such a blessing to see church leaders, new and old, encouraging & showing love to one another.

This was the core of the seminar: love. And all throughout the day, I witnessed small encounters of love between others. Whether it was during the games, at the appreciation dinner, or in worship, love was evident and displayed. If we can’t love ourselves and one another, how are we to go out into the world and show that same love?

I believe that when we focus on loving God and our relationship with Him, everything else will fall into place. Loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. It’s difficult loving others on your own but when the love of God is working through you and you’re reflecting that love, the rest will come naturally.

It’s a game changer for sure, but where do we start? Well, we’d like to challenge you this week as Thanksgiving approaches (fast) to really consider what you’re thankful for. God’s blessed us all with so much and we take these things for granted more often than not. Why not simply start by loving God and loving others with a gratitude that is a response from God’s blessings? For many of us, today may be Thanksgiving Sunday at your church. Let’s be thankful and let’s show the love of God in all things!

Reflection Song: God Our King

Epic

The word “epic” can be defined as: a long poem or narration telling of heroic deeds, figures, or adventures. But more commonly, we probably use it as an adjective defined as: monumental, great, grand, etc.

Either way, we got to be a part of Saga Church’s pre-launch service last Sunday for their new ministry: EPIC.

It all goes back to where we come from with our band name, Shameless Plug. Everyone has a story to tell and at the center of ours is Jesus. We want to make Jesus our shameless plug in this world so that He would be that epic heroic figure.

In John 3:16-17 it says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

We experience so many moments and events in our lives but nothing is as epic as the way that we were saved by the grace of Jesus Christ! If we had one reason to boast in His name and proclaim the good news, this would be it!

So today you may be considering things to be amazing and awesome, but what’s receiving the glory? Do you see God as epic as He really is in your life? Let’s shift our perspective to the great story that God is writing in our lives and be bold & boast in Him!

Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:31

Reflection Song: God Our King

Christ Alone, Cornerstone

We recently got back from leading praise at the GKUMC Retreat and from the worship, to the people, to even the food… what a weekend!

The theme of this retreat was Building Brick By Brick. Which may make you wonder, what’s at the base of your life? What’s your foundation? The writer Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The beautiful rest on the foundations of the necessary”, meaning that before a structure is built, it’s important to examine the foundation. In fact, other scholars, poets, and other notable figures have emphasized the importance of a solid foundation as well.

One reference that might come to mind is Matthew 7:24-27, which is the parable of The Wise And Foolish Builders (also known as “Build Your House On The Rock”).

But the idea is this: a foundation (or cornerstone) carries & supports not only the weight of the building, but also withstands any extra weight that may come its way such as the people, furniture, vehicles, etc. Therefore, good planning is a must! Without a solid foundation, you won’t have strong & level support for the structure.

Likewise, when we follow after Jesus and live by the Word of God, we are building upon the rock. The support we find with this Cornerstone would be able to withstand the extra weight of people, situations, difficulties, and other storms of life. But as we see in the passage in Matthew, those that don’t build their lives on solid ground but rather on sand will experience their structure falling with a great crash.

The way the retreat wrapped up was perfect. The backbone of that last message was to put God first. When you go through your list of important things, is He first? Or do you build your structure on fleeting things, unreliable objects, sinking sand? If we want to make it, we can’t do it on our own strength and planning. We need to live by God’s Word and trust in the course He’s set for us.

Simply put, we ought to follow after Jesus. I don’t know about you today but when I reflect upon my life, He’s been faithful time and time again. No one and nothing else can compare! Let’s continue to refocus and plan our lives to be built upon the solid rock, Jesus Christ, who gives us level support and satisfies our every desire!

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.Philippians 3:7-11

Reflection Song: Because Of Your Love