We will soon enter the season of Lent. A 40-day time period of preparation before Easter where many Christians observe a period of fasting, repentance, moderation, self-denial and other spiritual disciplines. All of these disciplines are designed to help set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ and his life, suffering, sacrifice, death, burial, and resurrection.
Ash Wednesday on February 17 marks the onset of the Lent, It is also known as the 'Day of Ashes', because on that day at church the faithful have their foreheads marked with ashes in the shape of a cross. The name 'Day of Ashes' comes from "Dies Cinerum" in the Roman Missal and is found in the earliest existing copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary. The concept originated by the Roman Catholics somewhere in the 6th century. Though the exact origin of the day is not clear, the custom of marking the head with ashes on this Day is said to have originated during the papacy of Gregory the Great (590-604).
In the Old Testament ashes were used for two purposes: a sign of humility and mortality; and as a sign of sorrow and repentance for sin. As Christians we continue to make this same connection on Ash Wednesday. We receive ashes on our head in the sign of the cross to remind us of our mortality and our sorrow for sin. We enter into a state of penitence as we humble ourselves before God and recognize that only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we defeat the impulses of our sinful desires.
In 2021 we will be having a digital Ash Wednesday service. Ash Wednesday has traditionally been a short somber service and we will continue that practice. It also has been a very small service but I hope you will consider joining this year. I believe you will be blessed, challenged, and encouraged. Please be looking for the emails that will include the information you will need to log in to either Zoom or Facebook at 7PM on Wednesday February 17.
I hope that you have received your Lenten devotional in the mail. This will be the focus of our Wednesday night studies all the way up until Easter. If you did not get one please email the church at firstname.lastname@example.org with your physical address and we will get one to you as soon as possible.
An excerpt from Philip Yancey’s book “Disappointment with God”:
We hear the words every Christmas season at church pageants when children dress up in bathrobes and act out the story of Jesus’ birth. “Fear not!” lisps the six-year-old angel, his bedsheet costume dragging the ground, his coat-hanger-frame wings flapping ever so slightly from the trembling of his body. He sneaks a glance at the script hidden in the folds of his sleeve. “Fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy.” Already he has appeared to Zechariah (his older brother with a taped-on cotton beard) and to Mary (a freckled blonde from the second grade). He used the same greeting for both, “Fear not!...”
These were also God’s first words to Abraham, and to Hagar, and to Isaac. “Fear not!” the angels said in greeting Gideon and the prophet Daniel. For supernatural beings, that phrase served almost as the equivalent of “Hello, how are you?” Little wonder. By the time the supernatural being spoke, the human being was usually lying face down in a cataleptic state. When God made contact with planet Earth, sometimes the supernatural encounter sounded like thunder, sometimes it stirred the air like a whirlwind, and sometimes it lit up the scene like a flash of phosphorous. Nearly always it caused fear. But the angels who visited Zechariah and Mary and Joseph heralded that God was about to appear in a form that would not frighten.
What could be less scary than a newborn baby with jerky limbs and eyes that do not quite focus? In Jesus, born in a barn or cave or laid in a feeding trough, God found at last a mode of approach that humanity need not fear. The king had cast off his robes.
How often do we pray? What do we expect when we pray? Does God answer every prayer? All great questions but we must take a step back and contemplate a very basic question, what is prayer? Prayer is simply talking to God. I have heard many public prayers over the years (and have prayed a few) where the person praying ceases talking to God and begins to address their audience or their own ideas.
God must be the central focus of every prayer otherwise it is not prayer but simply a pontification or if we are alone, we are only talking to ourselves. We must stand, sit, kneel, or prostrate in awe as we realize we are talking to the all-powerful being who created the universe. We don’t need to impress God with our vocabulary or creative metaphors because if God knows us perfectly there is no reason to put on any sort of pretense. Therefore, we have the privilege of talking to God, humbly and honestly.
This brings me back to my first question; how often do we pray? I know as I have evaluated my prayer life I came to a simple conclusion, not enough. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 puts it simply and succinctly “pray continually.” Yes, this verse does compete with John 11:35 as one of the shortest in the Bible. I believe that God has commanded us to pray and instructed us on how to pray and that through prayer my life and other’s life will change.
With all of this in mind I have created a challenge to myself that I would like to extent to you based on our year verse, Ephesians 3:20. If God can do immeasurable more than we ask, this verse assumes that we ask. This verse also clearly indicates that God’s power will always be the authority behind any answered prayer. I would like to challenge all of us to pray for God’s transforming power in each of our lives, our communities and our world. Trust that God will do immeasurably more in your life, in the lives of your family and friends and across our country.
Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV
As we start a new year, the Bible tells us there can be hope for the future.
First, there is hope of a changed person. No matter how hard we try, we are incapable of ridding ourselves of the selfishness and greed that cause conflict and strife and war. Our only hope is a changed heart – Jesus is in the business of changing hearts.
Second, there is hope of changed world. When we know Christ, He gives us by His Spirit a new love and concern for others. We can no longer be indifferent to their sufferings, and we’ll want to do something about them. Changed by Christ, we can begin to change our world.
Third, there is hope of an unchanging eternity in Heaven. This world is not all there is. Someday all its pain and heartache will come to an end for those who know Christ (Revelation 21:4). Evil and death will be abolished, and we will be safely in God’s presence forever.
As you read the headlines or look at your own life, you may be wondering if there is any hope. The answer from the Bible is a resounding yes.
These encouraging words of wisdom come from January 2nd of Billy Graham’s Wisdom for Each Day. God is in the business of changing lives and situations and God uses us as agents of change. No matter how much a person or a situation disappoints or discourages us, I pray that we will never lose hope. Let us all hold on to our eternal hope while we trust in God who can transform our lives and the world.
Happy New Year!
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances”
- the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians
If I am willing to stop and be honest with myself for just a few moments these words create in me many more questions than answers.
Can I say this? Do I live a life controlled and consumed by contentment?
When was the last time I was truly content? Where was I? What was I doing?
What does contentment look like? Feel Like? Can it be experienced?
How much money do I need? How much success do I need? How complete do my relationships need to be? How much control do I need to have?
I know what Whatever means. It means, no matter what. But, people I love die. But, I don’t live up to my own expectations. But, I am afraid of the future and ashamed of the past.
What are the things of this world that I can completely trust? Who are the people in this world I can completely trust? Can I even trust myself?
One word comes to mind, Hope. I must live with Hope. Hope, that Jesus did die for my sins, is my redeemer and the way to eternal life. Hope, that the Holy Spirit is with me and will comfort and guide me. Solomon reminds me, “Anyone who is among the living has hope.” I’m still alive so there is hope for me. And yes I mean that both ways. Hope is for me and there is Hope for me. My only hope for living a life of contentment is to learn to live with Hope. I must each day place all of my trust in God who is sovereign over all. Yes, I doubt. Yes, I make mistakes. But, the God who fearfully and wonderfully made me will never leave me or forsake me.
As christians we often face many challenges in our personal lives and in our walk with Christ. Sometimes we might feel discouraged and as if we have fallen off track. But Isaiah 43:19 reminds us that although we may feel lost or discouraged God can always give us a new beginning and a fresh start. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
Joyce Meyer wrote, “Our God is the God of 'do overs,' second chances, fresh starts and new beginnings.” During difficult times we can be encouraged by remembering that God is always with us and has our best interest at heart. No matter how many times we may feel we have fallen off track or made another mistake we can trust in the fact that God is always willing to give us a new beginning. You can read the full article from Joyce Meyer here:
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Forgiveness isn’t optional with God. Yes, admittedly there’s pain, anger, and even a sense of injustice about it, but it is the ONLY way to emotional, relationally, and spiritually move on in life and be free of the anger and resentment that unforgiveness carries. It’s the mixture of choosing humility and obedience that produces forgiveness…To Forgive is a mindset that decides to release rather than hold on to, to be freed rather than to be emotionally and relationally held hostage.
It’s one of those, “It sounds good, but how do you do it?” kind of things. Most people, in particular Christians, know they need to forgive, but they just don’t know how…For instance, let’s take the old saying, “Forgive and forget.” [Not only is this not possible it’s not practical.] One can’t just bypass the function of the temporal lobe of their brain that stores their memory and forgive, and we don’t want to forget the imprisoned effect that unforgiveness had on us [or] just how debilitating the person who caused us the pain made us live…In reality, to forget is not to connect to the pain. It’s out of the pain that we find our healing, and we also find out just who we are and who God is in the healing process.
No, forgiving is not forgetting. Nor is it excusing. But rather, it’s attaching yourself to the reality of the pain that it has caused while at the same time releasing the person who has caused the pain…It’s asking God to help you, through his love, to release the offender and the offense rather than hold on to them.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Matthew 6:14
The word “forgive” here means to send away, to let go, to give up a debt, to not be hindered anymore. This is the glorious outcome of forgiveness. We are no longer hindered or obstructed in our lives by the person who wounded us, the person who has been the center of our anger and resentment. Through forgiveness, the offense becomes reduced in our minds and thoughts. It’s no longer on the front burner of our psyche so as to affect our walk with Jesus and others. That equals emotional FREDOOM.
With the help of our forgiving God, here are six helpful steps to experience this emotional freedom.
1. Recognize the injury
2. Identify the emotions involved
3. Express your hurt and anger
4. Set boundaries to protect yourself
5. Cancel the debt (forgive)
6. Consider the possibility of reconciliation
When it comes to our freedom from wrongs suffered here on this side heaven, I believe The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said it best, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Forgiveness, through and act of loving obedience, is the only key that unlocks this truth.
Pastor Roger with the help of Dr. Fred Antonelli in his book Struggling Well pgs. 110-118
Our Good News Club, directed by Kathy Bavec and Martha Heidenger is still going strong. We now have two groups at Richmond Heights Elementary School. The younger children’s group is run by a group from another church. We help out if when needed if we are able. Our group consists of fourth to sixth graders.
The program runs from early October through early May divided into six-week lesson series. At the end of the six weeks is a party review game. There are activities for groups, songs with motions, Bible lessons, memory verses, missionary stories and review games. We also provide the children with a snack. The children are rewarded for various tasks: learning the verse of the previous week, bringing their Bible, and completing their homework. We try to make it fun, as well as teaching them the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what it means to live a life pleasing to God.
Kids love to compete so the review game is usually done in groups. We also have a “Quiet Seat” to maintain discipline. They are expected to behave, listen and participate to qualify as the winner. The Gospel is presented at each meeting. Those interested in becoming a child of God, or having any questions concerning getting saved are counseled after the lesson is given. We have seen many children accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.
This year we have focused on the Creation and Jesus and His miracles. The more we teach, the more we learn.
We recently hosted a Christmas Party at the Step by Step after school program. We served approximately 70 children. The children really enjoyed themselves. They did crafts, decorated cookies, played games, sang songs and had a Bible lesson. There were goody bags to take home along with cupcakes. One child said we should do this more often!
We also host a 5-Day Club in the summer. It is the same as a Good News Club only held outside in the evening and is for all ages. There have been trained teenage missionaries to do the lesson and songs. The last night is a picnic for the kids and their families.
We wish to thank the church members for their support of this very important ministry. We invite you to get involved. Kathy is always looking for new people to be trained. The CEF Team has all had training to be able to teach. The training and teaching really are fun and it is a rewarding experience. The more people we have, the more children can receive the Good News.
Cleveland East YoungLives has some exciting transitions taking place. We have transitioned teen moms into junior leadership roles and added 3 people on staff! We transitioned teen moms who have aged out of YoungLives at Cleveland East club. We felt this would be a great time to do what we have labeled a "reset." We suspended our local monthly club and decided to take YoungLives into the community. Over the last two months, we've hosted numerous "Mommy Meet-ups" at local libraries, schools and community centers. At our meet-ups, we passed out clothes, diapers and other baby items.
Through these events, we were able to establish relationships with some of the neighboring public schools, and now we’re providing a program called "lunch buddies." Our lunch buddy program allows us to go into the schools, have lunch with the teen mothers, and talk about life situations. This allows us to build trust and relationships with the young mothers and then we also invite them to our local club. We have planned activities such as mommy & me paint night, bowling night, and a scavenger hunt. We are in need of donated meals for our meetings and childcare volunteers for our monthly club.
Our Slavic Village location is doing well. We have built a solid foundation with the girls we serve, and we are always looking to bring more girls to the feet of Jesus. We are currently serving 4 girls and their babies at this location. We’ve had some new girls express interest, so please pray for our continued growth.
The past few months have brought some personal challenges with a few of our girls. As you may know, their home situations aren’t always ideal. Our continued prayer is that their struggles bring them closer to Christ, and we are constantly loving on them and praying for them, and we ask you all to lift them in prayer as well. We know God is moving in their lives because even when times are hard, they aren’t dealing with those struggles the same way they have in the past!!
· Full participation from all our girls
· Women to join us in standing in the gap as mentors and leaders
· Access to more schools for our lunch buddy program
Thank you for your prayers and support!
The past few months have been such an exciting time for Cleveland East Young Life.
One exciting story that has been happening is with two high school students. On New Year's we invited some friends to join us in reading the bible in a year. Two students, who have not shown up to many YL events responded to my text and wanted to read through the bible with us. The next day we met up and started reading through the bible. As of today, we have not missed a day of reading and it has lead to some very exciting and challenging conversations. One of those students is not following Christ. . .please pray that he will come to know Jesus.
The organization has also received three new volunteer Young Life leaders at Cleveland Heights High School (Ben and Delilah Armstrong and Hailey Devine). All three of them are incredibly gifted friends. Please pray for God's blessing on them as they walk into that school in hopes of building friendships and sharing The Gospel.
Top Area Prayer Requests
1) Pray that our Leaders, Staff, Committee, and High School Campaigners are reading daily and have a growing dependence on Christ.
2) Pray for blessing and protection on Cleveland Heights High School and the ministry that we are beginning in that community.
3) Prayer of thankfulness for the adults that have joined alongside us as we follow Christ in this mission, please prayer for God to identify teachers, parents, pastors in the community to fight with us.
4) Please pray that the 2,500 students (Mayfield & Cleveland Heights) that have a Young life leader walking into their schools can meet them and be changed by The Gospel.
5) Please prayer for the 12 school districts in our area and that God calls those students to a relationship with Him.