Lent: Lenten Guide 2021

Most people associate Lent with people fasting and “giving up” something like meat, chocolate, social media, etc. But what is Lent? How did it get started?

You’re going to have a hard time finding Lent in your Bible. It’s not there. When the last New Testament books and letters were written, Lent had not yet been developed. The season of Lent emerged as a faithful response to God in a time where Christianity flourished for the wrong reasons.

The widespread emergence of Lent occurred in the 300s CE as Christianity struggled with the effects of its growing power and influence in the Roman Empire. Starting in 312 CE, Christianity began receiving special treatment in Rome through Emperor Constantine. By 380 CE, Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity the state religion.

With its new place of imperial favor, Christianity was no longer just a path of fidelity in the face of potential persecution, it had become a path towards privilege, power, and money. Politicians and wealthy businessmen now had political reasons for converting to Christianity. Christianity’s numbers grew as it became harder to distinguish people’s motivations for being Christian.

The Roman Empire became filled with nice Christians, but less holy ones. Many Christians responded by fleeing to the wilderness to live as monks and nuns. Monks like Saint Anthony of Egypt, who left the city life behind for a life of prayer and poverty, became flooded with Christian travelers journeying to learn about a different path of holiness.

In this time, the season of Lent emerged as a 40-day season of fasting, penitence, reflection, and preparation before the celebrations of Easter Sunday. The joys of Easter Sunday are easy and popular, but who was willing to wrestle with the difficulties and temptations that prepare for Good Friday?

Some people consider Lent dour because they dislike the idea of giving up one of their favorite treats, but Lent was developed to intermix the seriousness of simple devotion alongside the joy of Easter. Before it was called Lent, the season was simply called tessarakoste (“fourtieth”), which might remind you of Pentecost (“fiftieth”). If, however, you count the days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday (the day before Easter) it doesn’t add up to forty days. Sundays in the season didn’t count since they were seen as weekly celebrations of Christ’s resurrection and the Christian hope. The juxtaposition of Lenten simplistic devotion with joyful Sundays of Christian hope provides a spiritual depth that prepares the way for Easter celebration.

Christians for hundreds of years have longed to follow Jesus more faithfully and not settle for popular, cultural Christianity. This Lenten season, our sermon series, “In God’s Name,” examines the ways we describe God and God’s actions in the world. By Good Friday, Jesus will be charged with blasphemy for announcing and living out God’s liberation for the world. As we faithfully follow God, we should not be surprised that others, particularly other Christians, might consider our devotion to be blasphemy too. Early Christians committed to a Holy God and you can too.

Each day, you’re invited to pray, to sing, to read scripture, and to reflect. Throughout the guide, you’ll see imagery that invites you to contemplate how you see God. What artwork, what music, what scripture might invite you to see God afresh? We invite you to explore with us. Our prayer is that this guide might be a launching pad for your Lenten journey. As you encounter a Bible verse, a song, a prayer, and go to explore it more, may you find God there. If you go to our website, fbcjxn.org/devotions, each day there will be a new post that includes the scripture of the day, prayers, and links to videos that include the song of the day.

As you learn more about who God is, you learn more about who God calls you to be. If you hear Christ calling you towards more, we hope you’ll join us in this Lenten season. Let us journey together in Lent towards Easter.


Download our 2021 Lent Prayer Guide online. You can also interact with each daily prayer on our devotions webpage.

ABC of MI Statement on the Mob Violence in Washington D.C.

We welcome and affirm the statement from the American Baptist Churches of Michigan that was posted to Facebook on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 in response to the violence taking place at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.


“As American Baptist Churches of Michigan we declare that the mob activity that is taking place in Washington D.C. is not in keeping with the example set forth in Jesus Christ. While the elasticity of the bonds that hold us together as American Baptists provide ample space for people whose political views are a stark contrast to one another; we must acknowledge that those bonds will not stretch enough to make room for the evil violence being perpetrated.

In order to functionally remain under the Lordship of Jesus Christ at this juncture requires us to repudiate any attempt to obtain or maintain power through any means that disregard the teachings of Jesus Christ, particularly the Sermon on the Mount. This repudiation extends throughout any and all political affiliations where the example of Jesus Christ would be maligned through actions that fail to consider His example.

This day let us all be reminded that our battle is not against flesh and blood, as the Apostle Paul states in His letter to the Ephesians. The Enemy has come to foment division that is birthed out of the sinful hearts of humankind. Those who profess Jesus Christ as Savior are not exempt from the tactics of the Evil One in this way.

ABC-MI is inviting all of its members to turn to prayer in this moment and ask that Almighty God would both cleanse our hearts of any and every form of idolatry and temporary kingdom building, while simultaneously dispatching His followers to accurately reflect the One whose Name we bear. In this moment we are called to, may the reconciling work that every ambassador of Jesus Christ is charged with be the prevailing passion of our hearts.”


Silent Night

The light of Christmas is not meant to be hidden inside church buildings. Enjoy our video of Silent Night, celebrating the light emerging in our city, Jackson. The video first appeared as the finale of our 2020 Christmas Eve service.

“Unexpected Worship” by Brently Groshong

It all comes back to the same question what is worship? We explored this very question in the first part of this series in the FBC JXN Magazine, October/November 2020 and came to an interesting conclusion. The questions should not be so much “What is worship?” for we all place our devotion and allegiance someplace. The questions should rather be, “What or Who are we worshipping?”

We discovered that the more we surrender more and more of ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit, we begin to change. We shift our focus of worship. We fall more in love with the Creator, the one that created us to be in harmony with Him. And we discovered that worship is not merely contained to a time and place, such as Sunday morning at a church building. It is having the heart to worship everywhere, all the time.

Even when it is inconvenient. Even when it doesn’t fall on Sunday or at a midweek prayer meeting or during our morning devotion time.

Jesus told a story about worship, and it can be hard to read.

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:34-40).

As Christians we like to plan our outreaches and our missions, come prepared with what we would like to offer the least of these. And these ministries are important and vital to our society. They offer goods and services to people who really need them: who really need them and know where to look for them.

But worship to the least of these—worship beyond our walls—doesn’t always come neatly packaged at the time and place we scheduled.

Acts of worship to the least of these can be unexpected and inconvenient, like when that stranger on the street corner asks for money or when your co-worker’s car breaks down or when your neighbor needs someone to drive them to the hospital.

I recently experienced this in a very real and practical way. Last summer during the lockdown when Pastor Dallas Flippin and I were still pre-recording our services for streaming on Sunday mornings, I found myself still quite in the habit of getting up and wanting to be out of the house at 7 a.m. on Sundays. After a few moments of pacing the floor, I decided I needed to just get out of the house. So I grabbed a face mask and went for a coffee at the Speedway on the corner of Ganson and Wisner.

Once I purchased my coffee and a couple of donuts for the kids, I went back to my car satisfied with my coffee and outing. I closed the door and was getting ready to go home, but then out the corner of my eye, I saw a disheveled lady walking toward me.

“Excuse me, sir.”

She was broke and needed a ride. It turns out she was also homeless, carrying all her belongings in a bag she carried. She wanted to go someplace that offered hot showers and laundry facilities free of charge.

It don’t normally give rides to strangers—although I have picked up a hitchhiker or two. But that’s an entirely different story.

For this woman, I felt like I needed to give her a ride.

In the car ride, she told me her story. Life had not treated her well. Her family had abandoned her, and her health was poor. I listened to her story and knew that right there in the car I had an opportunity to worship. I didn’t have much money in my pocket, but I what I did have, I gave to her, just like Peter.

But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk” (Acts 3:6).

God’s presence filled the car as I spoke of His goodness and how much He loved and cared about her. Her countenance lifted as we prayed together regarding her situation, and all of life’s hurdles and challenges.

It was inconvenient to meet the needs of this woman. It was not part of my plan. But I opened my car door to a person in need and was able to worship the Father as I met one simple need. I remember thinking to myself in the moment, “This is what I was made to do. This is my purpose.” Then I shared with this beloved woman where I work and told her to stop by the church someday. And then it was all over. She exited the car at her destination.

A couple of weeks later, I saw her again, just outside of our church. She wanted to let me know how things are going for her. There were positive changes, and she began to watch our Sunday morning church services at a friend’s house.

I continue to pray for her wholeness believing that God has a plan for this dear woman. And me, I continue to look for those unexpected and inconvenient opportunities to feed the hungry, provide drink to those that thirst, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. Even in this pandemic, there are plenty of opportunities. We can see needs around us and be the hands and feet of Jesus. The world is watching for those who choose to worship God in spirit and truth, anytime, anyplace.

John 4:23 “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”

“Surviving the Holiday Blues” by Marilynn Fryer

During the holiday season, we sing songs of joy, of being merry and of hopeful anticipation. For some, however, the holidays are not a time of joy and hope, but instead can be difficult and depressing times. This is commonly known as the holiday blues, which can typically run from November through December.

To help fight the holiday blues, try these self-care tips:

Remember to SEE – sleep, eat right, and exercise

While the holidays are hectic times, we must make sure to care for our physical needs.

Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Adults with young children may laugh, but sleep is vital to our daily functioning.

Eating right during the holidays can be difficult and almost seems like an oxymoron. With parties and celebrations, the opportunities to skimp on nutrition are everywhere. Be careful to not let occasional indulgences become daily; fuel your body with good, nutritious food. Limit alcohol as well because alcohol is a depressant and drinking too much can worsen other negative feelings.

With all the busy-ness of the holidays, exercise may take a back seat. Don’t forget that even a 10-minute walk can do wonders for body and mind. Schedule time for exercise.

Examine your expectations 

Holidays have become increasingly commercialized, with businesses counting on sales for greater profits. Be careful not to buy into an overly commercialized holiday, which can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety if we think our celebration doesn’t measure up to expectations. Set a budget for your holiday gift-giving and entertaining and stick to it. Plan a holiday that fits you.

Seek out support 

While feeling sad or blue may make you want to stay home, reaching out and seeking friends can help. That is challenging during this year with the COVID-19 pandemic, but phone calls or video chats such as Google Meet can provide interaction. Look for ways to connect. Volunteering can be a good way to reach out to others, also.

Lean into faith

While the holidays may bring up many negative feelings, as Christians, we recognize that we are celebrating the greatest miracle the world has known – God becoming flesh, being born in a manger. Lean into your faith and spirituality throughout the holiday season to combat the blues and anxiety we may experience. Lifting our minds out of our current circumstances and focusing on God’s wonder can change our perspective. Practices such as prayer and meditation can bring focus and mindfulness during this hectic time.

Understand that it’s OK to feel down at times – no one is happy all the time. Be careful of the pressures that the holidays may bring. Recognizing when you’re down and knowing how to help yourself – watching a funny TV show, talking to friends and family, going for a walk or run, reading a good book or doing a favorite craft, can all help improve a blue mood.


If the blues last longer than expected or significantly impair daily functioning, you may want to talk to a doctor or mental health professional for help. The holiday blues typically leave as we get into January. With the COVID-19 pandemic, most mental health resources are available virtually.

Wishing all a merry Christmas and happy holidays!

“The Heart of Worship” – by Brently Groshong

Our hearts desire, so we worship. We save, we collect, we conserve, we sacrifice just so that we can obtain what the heart desires. That’s worship.

But, wait. Most of us would say that we do okay at worshipping God, but is that what worship really is— sacrificing so that we can obtain what the heart desires? The dictionary defines worship a little differently.

Worship
Noun – Reverent, honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.
Verb (used with object) – to render religious reverence and homage to (any person or thing).
verb (used without object) – to attend services of divine worship. to feel an adoring reverence or regard.

We like to think that we only worship God, but the truth is we can worship anything, cars, trucks, homes, clothes, jewels, power, control, status, and even people, just to name a few. We have heard the stories of people so captivated by something that they forsake all else just to gain that one thing.

The late Rev. Billy Graham once said, “Give me five minutes with a person’s checkbook, and I will tell you where their heart is.” It is equally true when it comes to our time and talent. At its root, we need to ask, what do we worship.

As humans, it would appear that we have done well at worshiping. Even Jesus spoke to the heart of this when he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).

Sure, that’s a parable with a much deeper meaning, but we also know Jesus used common language and common stories when He spoke to the people of his time. But He didn’t just to speak to them, He was speaking to all humans because He knew our hearts could be distracted by pearls and other things. We clearly know how to worship. Worship, in fact, maybe one of those innate abilities. God gave us that ability because we were born with the ability to recognize God. Paul wrote about that in Romans 1:19 and 20.

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”

The question is, “What are we worshiping?” What I would like to suggest is that worship is a heart issue—and that a heart transplant or changing of the heart may be in order. Start with Psalm 51. This psalm centers around a recognition of the heart issue—misplaced worship or sin—solely before God and a humble request of pardon. The psalmist states that he was born sinful and that God required faithfulness, or rightly placed worship, from him even when he was in the womb. In verses 10-12, the psalmist continues, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain in me a willing spirit.”

You see, sin entered into the equation early. From that point, we were no longer born with a heart for the Creator of the Universe; we were born into the sin of want and desire of things of the flesh. It’s all we’ve ever known, that is, until Jesus came along, redeemed us, promised us an eternal home in heaven, and gave us the Holy Spirit to guide our hearts.

As we surrender more and more of ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit, we begin to change. We shift our focus of worship. We fall more in love with the Creator, the one that created us to be in harmony with Him.

As we surrender more and more of ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit, we begin to change. We shift our focus of worship. We fall more in love with the Creator, the one that created us to be in harmony with Him.

Worshiping God inside of a building is just the beginning because worship is not just a verb to be contained within the walls of a building, it is also a noun. It’s reverence and honor, everywhere, all the time. It’s having the heart to worship beyond the walls.

Take just a moment to meditate on the lyrics to the “Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman.

When the music fades,
All is stripped away and I simply come
Longing just to bring, Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart
I’ll bring you more than a song
For a song in itself is not what you have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart.
I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about you, It’s all about you, Jesus
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about you, It’s all about you, Jesus

May it be so.

“Go (Online) and Make Disciples” – by Pastor Dallas

Jesus calls Christians to reach out to people of all nations, but we avoid going out in faith because of the walls of our comfort zones, our tribes, or our church buildings. When we faithfully go, we both fulfill God’s mission and experience God’s presence. Jesus, at the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel, said, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations… And remember, I am with you always.” When we spread Christ’s love to those who’ve never experienced it, we find community with God and the faithful. In a difficult year, God has forced us beyond our walls to do the very things that God has always called us to do. And God has been with us, even while we’ve been physically apart from each other.

“God has forced us beyond our walls to do the very things that God has always called us to do. And God has been with us, even while we’ve been physically apart from each other.”

A February snowstorm was the catalyst that pushed our church’s ministry into the digital frontier for an online Ash Wednesday service. Many churches have been in the digital mission field for years, but this was a learning step for us. That night, we began a new sermon series titled, There’s Another Way. We didn’t know yet how much that phrase would become essential in 2020. While we missed the warmth of each other’s presence, we worshiped from our homes and beyond, and did so with others who we might not even know by face.

Three weeks later, COVID-19 led to the shutdown of on-site gatherings. I had to learn a lot about trust in that season. I had to trust that the message God was moving in my heart would reach beyond a camera lens. The camera lens didn’t respond to my tone or my questions; I had to trust that the God who moved me to speak would move someone to listen on the other end of a screen. Real ministry was happening beyond our walls.

The curiosity about church was really high in those early weeks. Suddenly, we had out-of-state friends and family worshiping with us. There was a lot of work behind the scenes to extend our worship to the world beyond. Typically, Brently and I would gather on Fridays to pre-record the service, which now included activities like changing camera settings and checking audio levels for each other. After recording the service, it took another 10-12 hours of video editing on Friday nights and Saturdays to trim the videos, adjust the audio, add lyrics to the video, and export the videos for different platforms. The work was worth it because it helped spread good news in a time where painful news seemed to reign.

That workflow wasn’t sustainable. Eventually, as we would start to offer in person worship and other events, the amount of time needed to pre-record worship would be difficult to maintain weekly. We needed a sustainable way of expanding our worship and our ministry impact to those beyond our walls, so we began transitioning to live streaming to broadcast services in real time without the extra hours of edits and publishing. Transitioning would require a lot of work. We needed new equipment, more volunteers, and more training.

We needed at least four volunteers every week. In addition to needing someone to run the soundboard, which we had done in the past, we also needed someone to run the live stream computer and its presentation software, someone to operate the cameras, and someone to host our social media feeds during the live stream to welcome, pray for, and moderate our online platform. With new challenges and opportunities ahead, we were blessed to have 10 people step up to learn and serve.

Why did volunteers commit to helping move the church beyond our walls? They sought to benefit those beyond the walls, including church members who couldn’t physically be present. One volunteer, Mike, explained, “I wanted to help the church during a time when others couldn’t. Many people from the church have helped me in the past so I felt it was my turn to try and help others.” God binds the people of the church together. God’s loving bond extends beyond our building.

“I WANTED TO HELP THE CHURCH DURING A TIME WHEN OTHERS COULDN’T. MANY PEOPLE FROM THE CHURCH HAVE HELPED ME IN THE PAST SO I FELT IT WAS MY TURN TO TRY AND HELP OTHERS.”

Mike Hughey

The bond between our volunteers has grown through serving. The team describes the experience of serving in this season as “special,” “inspiring,” and “very rewarding.” Bridget described the effect of serving, saying “I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie that has developed with everyone working on the team. I think it has brought us closer as we work together to stream the services.” We don’t grow closer together during selfish pursuits. God grows us together as we reach out in mission beyond our comfort zones and walls.

Creating and consuming digital content is not all there is to spiritual life, but we hope that our digital outreach invites people beyond our walls to experience our worship and, most importantly, our God. Mike shares his hope that our church would “reach people it normally wouldn’t reach. If we can help someone by putting ourselves out there than it was all worth it.”

Ministering in a digital world means you may never meet the person whose life is affected by our church’s ministry. We might not see that one-person face to face, but if we can introduce God and the way of love to one new person, it is worth it.

Another team member, Marilynn, describes the mission saying, “We are called to spread Christ’s love and to make disciples wherever we go. We have tools to do that today like never before in history.” Let’s trust that God will take the faithfulness of our planting digital seeds and grow them up into flowers of real life discipleship live we’ve never seen before.

Photo taken by Walter V Marshall

This story first appeared in our October – November 2020 magazine issue. If you’d like to receive our print or digital magazine issues, subscribe here. Read the entire October – November issue online now.

Sermon Resources on Prayer

If you are looking for some helps to enhance your prayer life, listen to our archived sermon series on prayer, Prayer 2.0.

Phase 3: Worship live or online

We are entering into phase 3 of our reopening onsite activities. Read more about our phases here.

The sanctuary is now open for those who wish to join us in person for our livestream worship service at 10 a.m. Sundays. Watch our announcement video from Pastor Dallas below. Continue reading below to read more about the guidelines and expectations around being onsite as we seek to minimize the health risks while together.

Guidelines

Here are guidelines concerning being onsite for worship now in Phase 3.

  • If you are feeling sick, do not enter the building. If you start to display symptoms of COVID-19 after having been in the building, please reach out to the church office promptly.
  • Masks must be worn inside the building.
  • Worship in the sanctuary is the only Sunday activity being offered at this time. When you enter the building, please make your way to a seat in the sanctuary.
  • People should remain 6 feet apart (unless you are in the same household). When sitting in pews, leave 2 empty pews between you and another person.

Welcoming Spirit

We want a spirit of trust and a non-judgmental atmosphere to exist throughout our church in this season. Please, do not judge your brother or sister for their choice of how to worship in this moment. Some may choose to worship online for a while. Some will be back immediately. Some will be week-to-week in their comfortability of attending. Let’s pray for each other.

Be mindful of the language you use during this period. It can hurt someone to ask, “Where’ve you been?”, which can feel layered with judgment. If you shift your language ever so slightly, and say, “I’ve missed you. How have you been?”, you might lift up someone’s spirits.

Phases of Reopening

Overview

We want to share with you a big picture overview of what’s coming next at FBCJXN. After about 3 months of restrictions, we are excited to enter into Phase 2, a time of preparation of our building, our volunteers, and most importantly our spirits. Our big change in phase 2 is that we are moving from prerecorded worship to training a team of volunteers to livestream our worship, so that we can continue to invite people to worship with us online, even when onsite worship returns in Phase 3. Phase 2 should not last long, but it requires volunteers to help us move forward.

One of the big requirements to transition from Phase 2 to Phase 3 and on-site worship is the need for volunteer support, particularly to maintain our online worship presence as we transition to livestreaming worship. Continuing online worship enables vulnerable individuals to continue worshiping with us from the safety of their homes, as well as guests, those traveling, shut ins, and more who would be unable to worship with us otherwise.

Watch the video below to hear Pastor Dallas explain the big picture overview of our phases of reopening, our volunteer needs, and an exciting in person, outdoor opportunity for Sunday nights throughout Phase 2.

Volunteer Needs

Would you like to be a part of helping spread the message of God’s love and good news to those who can’t be with us in person? We have 4 types of volunteer opportunities that will be receiving training very soon, and we could use your help.

  • Sound Board Operators – Our sound board controls both the audio to our on-site speaker system, but also a separate feed online. Knowledge of sound boards and audio is a plus.
  • Camera Operators – Our camera operators help make sure that our leaders and speakers are in the video frame. Knowledge of video cameras is a plus.
  • Propresenter Computer Operators – Propresenter is a software that helps overlay lyrics, graphics, etc. on the video feed as well as streaming the video to our online worship platforms. Knowledge of computers and video software is a plus.
  • Social Media Hosts – Our livestreams need hosts to welcome online attenders, invite and offer prayers, and moderate any unwanted posts by online trolls.

If you’re interested in helping with any of these four volunteer positions, please email office@fbcofjackson.org or call the church office (517-784-3151).