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Lent: Empty Space

I grew up with the habit of giving something up for Lent.  Perhaps you did also.  When I was in elementary and middle school I would mull over for several weeks before Ash Wednesday what I would be willing to forego for forty very long days.  Sometimes I would simply choose something I wouldn’t miss very much, like pretzels.  But when I did that I always felt like I was cheating by making it too easy. 

So, usually I would choose something like ice cream or chocolate; something that would require real will-power to resist.  And at the end of those forty days, having fought the desire to partake of what I had chosen to give up, I felt like an athlete who had just won a marathon – a bit worn out from the daily temptations, but triumphant just the same.  I had persevered.

Yet, in the end, what did all that sacrifice accomplish?  Well, I proved to myself and others that I had will-power.  But is this something the Lord wants us to acquire?  Are we to observe Lent by proving that we can deny ourselves something?

Let’s think about this for a moment.  According to the evangelists Matthew and Luke, Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert, just after his baptism and just before the devil tempted him.  But we would be wrong to conclude that Jesus fasted in order to see how long he could go without food.  He was not trying to prove a point – that he had the right stuff, that he had determination and will-power.  He wasn’t participating in some first-century version of Survivorman.

Instead, by fasting, Jesus was seeking to empty himself of anything that distracted him from God’s voice and direction.  Giving up food was just a tool in the process of letting go of his own – and anyone else’s – expectations.  Fasting didn’t prepare him for the ultimate sacrifice God would require of him.  Instead, fasting allowed him to be still and receptive so that God could prepare him for all that lay ahead.   And, although at the end of forty days Jesus was hungry physically, he was full spiritually. He was also prepared for whatever temptation the devil had in store for him.

So God didn’t need Jesus to be self-directed or tenacious.  We may find these qualities very attractive and helpful in our daily life and work.  But what God needed was for Jesus to be obedient.  To depend wholly upon his Father and not upon himself; to do his Father’s will and not his own.  

Therefore, the sole purpose of fasting for Lent – whether that fast has to do with giving up something to eat, or some other practical thing in our lives, like fasting from television in the evening or from video games on the weekend – is to quiet one “appetite” in order to allow the Holy Spirit to awaken another – our appetite for the Lord.  The undertaking of a spiritual discipline is always about giving up something, or taking on something, in order to receive something from God more fully. 

So the forty days of Lent are for learning how to listen for and follow God’s direction for our lives.  They provide us with an opportunity to stop and ask the Lord what he would have us do and relinquish our own plans for how to be a good person.  However, in all honesty it takes a lot longer than forty days to learn the habits of faithfulness and obedience.  Thankfully, our salvation is not dependent upon how quickly or well we learn them.  Jesus has already brought about our salvation for us.  Faithfulness and obedience are learned over the course of a lifetime among others who desire to learn the same things.

Therefore, I invite you to join with me and concede that God does not need self-directed people.  Instead, God needs faithful people.  People who will surrender their good intentions to him and let him re-direct them; people who will follow Jesus and not simply brief him on their plans and ask for his blessing; people who no longer try to make themselves better by being more determined. For in the end, developing willpower only makes us more resistant to the Lord.

So should you choose to give up or take on something during this season of this Lent, I hope that doing so creates an empty space that only Jesus will fill. 

by Rev. Claudia Greggs

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Only the poor can follow Jesus

In Luke 18, a rich man comes to Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus response is fascinating. He lists off five of the ten commandments (Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother) while leaving off the commandments about coveting and honoring God. The rich man claims to have kept the five Jesus mentions. Jesus doesn't challenge his claim, but says that the rich man still lacks one thing and that he must sell all his possessions and follow him. 

So what is the one thing he lacks? Earlier in Luke 10, Jesus says the way to eternal life is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."  The rich man has possessions, power and respect. He is moral and he appears to be blessed by God, but Jesus directs him to his heart. He still lacks one thing: God. Jesus' request for him to give all he owns to the poor reveals an inability to love his neighbor which reflects a heart that is unwilling to love God.

It would be easy to misinterpret Jesus' response to the rich man as a test and subsequent disappointment that he failed the test because he wasn't righteous or generous enough. As though Jesus measured him up and found him lacking. But Jesus sadness was less about what the rich man wouldn't do, it was about who he didn't know. His unwillingness to surrender his material wealth revealed that he knew the law but not the giver of the law. Jesus desperately wanted this man to know and give his heart to his Heavenly Father. To recognize the true riches offered to him in Christ. But his heart was given over to the security and comfort found in his wealth. Sadly, he failed to see that without Christ he was in desperately impoverished.

Salvation is a lavish gift of grace that requires us to acknowledge just how poor and helpless we are apart from Christ.  Only when we see ourselves as poor will we be free to follow him and love the poor among us.

David Cumbie

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Serve the City

This past Sunday we heard several members of our community share ways in which God is at work. He is doing incredible things. God is inviting us to be a part of his mission, of something so much bigger than ourselves, bigger than we could ever imagine. 

But joining God’s work in the world isn’t easy. It requires busy people to give up their time. It requires real humility and a posture of learning. It requires stepping out of comfortable places and trusting God.

Every one of us is called to serve Christ with all that we are. As James 2 reminds us, our faith is a living faith that moves us to action:

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[b] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

If the Gospel is true and God’s spirit is within us, the grace and truth of Jesus Christ ought to be oozing out into everything we do. I don’t know what that looks like for you, but I do know that it will require sacrifice and humility and it will be uncomfortable. I know that God will show himself faithful and use your willingness to serve him in ways you could never imagine. I know he will give you story after story to tell – incredible stories about how God has changed others and changed you.

God willing, one year from now we will be moving into a new facility in downtown Raleigh. And starting today we want to issue ourselves a challenge for the next 12 months. We’re calling it “Serve the City” and the goal is simple – to earn a reputation for Jesus in our city through the selfless giving of our time and resources to those in physical and spiritual need.

But how can we do that? We want every person in our community to find one way to show the love of Jesus in our city. One way to step out of your comfort zone, to sacrifice, to serve over the next 12 months.

Every Sunday there will be a Serve the City table in the lobby with hundreds of these little cards that highlight all kinds of ways you can show the love of Christ in our city. From one hour to weekly, from relational to one time, there are all kinds of opportunities for individuals, families, and community groups to serve. (read a few) Or come up with your own way to serve. There’s a complete list of ways you can serve at htcraleigh.org/servethecity.

And this is just the beginning when it comes to telling stories. We are going to keep sharing ways that God is working in our city and our world. So we’ll have more testimonies during the year from people that accepted the Serve the City challenge and how God used it in their life.

God willing, we will be moving into a beautiful new facility in the heart of downtown Raleigh. And the first day of worship there is going to be incredible. But my hope is that our first Sunday won’t be the first time our city has ever heard of Holy Trinity. My prayer is that God might use our meager efforts to love and serve him in our city to earn a reputation for Jesus. That God would use the sacrificial giving of our time, to lead people to saving faith in Jesus. That as we love our city, the people of our city would come to know the God we serve.

This is who we are, this is who we are called to be, this is to be our passion: to proclaim, exalt and serve Jesus Christ so that others might know him.  I hope you’ll accept the challenge and find one way to show the love of Jesus to our city! 

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Cement & The Gospel

Construction begins on our new facility in downtown Raleigh.

Construction begins on our new facility in downtown Raleigh.

I have the best view in the city.  Out my office windows the men from Clancy & Theys are hard at work on our new church building.  As I type there is a truck pouring cement to form the footings of our sanctuary. 

I don’t know anything about construction, but it isn’t hard to understand that foundations are important.  Men have been on-site all week surveying, taking measurements, digging holes, building forms and measuring everything all over again.  If the foundation isn’t level across the site then we will have the leaning tower of Raleigh!  If the quality or consistency of the concrete is below standard then it will not be able to support the weight of the building.  If the dirt around it is not properly compacted and prepared the ground itself will give way and erode.  As one visitor to my office this week observed, “foundations are everything.”

What is true of church buildings is true of the Church as God’s gathered people.  Our foundation is paramount and we need to pay careful attention to its maintenance and upkeep.  What is our foundation?  The simple gospel message that we are sinners saved by the grace of God through faith in his son, Jesus Christ.

Everything about us ought to flow out of this foundation-reality and reflect the truth of this great claim.  As we build, as we preach, as we gather in community groups, as we serve in our city we are building each day on the foundation of Jesus Christ and seeking to glorify his name.  It is all there in our mission: we proclaim the good news about Jesus, we exalt his name above all others, and we serve the city around us for the sake of his glory.  In the words of the old hymn, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” 

 

Yours,

John Yates, 
Sr. Pastor/Rector