The Church Year and Spiritual Growth

The Church Year and Spiritual Growth

I have often found that persons are unfamiliar with the concept of the “Church year”.  In many congregations, including Methodism, we see and take for granted certain practices without fully understanding them.   

The practices I am referring to include the changing colors on the altar, the pulpit and lectern, as well as choir robes and other features.  Also, we often see or hear terms that we may not fully understand; Advent,  Lent, Eastertide, Kingdom tide, and others may not translate meaningfully. There are even special days that may seem strange, such as All Saints Day, Christ the King Sunday,  Epiphany, Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday..  What is it all about?

The Church year is about reliving the life of Christ in an ongoing seasonal manner.  The year begins with Advent when the promised coming of the Messiah is remembered through specific readings, music, and acts of worship. Advent climaxes with the Christmas celebration of the nativity. The year proceeds with Epiphany in a manner that walks the believer through the public appearance of Jesus, his life and ministry. With the arrival of the Lenten season believers recall his passion, death. The climax here is Easter when we experience the resurrection of the Christ. From Easter we move towards Pentecost and the birth of the Church.  The balance of the year explores the important themes of what it means to be the body of Christ in our world.  And in general terms, the cycle begins again as we approach Advent.

So, as they say, “What’s the point?”  I believe that correctly understood, the Church year can be a valuable tool to allow us to grow spiritually as we meditate upon and study the major movements of our faith.  The early church understood the Christian faith as both an organized set of beliefs (credens) and a vital condition of the heart (fiducia) .  One played into the other.  

We too may find that by reliving the seasons of the year with their focus upon the Gospel message, our own faith will be more completely informed and more deeply felt.
As we approach the Advent season, be on the lookout for resources that will be displayed around the church to aid you and your family in mining this treasure trove of the Church year.




Doubtless, many of us, if not all, have had the experience of beginning a day (or even a period of life) with the lackluster sense of having no inspiration about the routine facing us. 

 It is one more day of doing something that is just pretty tedious. There is no challenge, no excitement, and no fulfillment on the horizon at all.  Sometimes the time window involved can be shockingly long.

Years ago, I worked with a fellow who shared with me a startling personal observation.  He had been employed for thirteen years doing a particular job and had never enjoyed a day of it.  At the time, I found that troubling. I still do.  I do not like the idea of feeling trapped in a role that brings no sense of fulfillment at all.  It is a painful thought to consider that one might be engaged so long in such a manner as my friend.  Yet, I suspect that it is not all that rare.

Do you know someone that gets up each day and simply plods though the process because they feel that is their only option?  It sounds kind of bleak, does it not?  Is there nothing one could do about it?  I have known people who “live for the weekend” as a way of coping.  They endure the tedium and see Friday as an escape window.  For the next two days, they try to cram all the living into forty-eight hours that they can and then it is Monday again.  This may be better than nothing, but not much. 

I wonder if it would be better to consider other options.  What if we looked for ways to make our life count throughout the week?  Be a part of some group or activity that brings vitality to our routine.   What is we took a class that was completely impractical?  Classes that are not job related, but allow us to paint a picture, read a book or explore a hobby? What if we joined a club or civic group that allowed us to experience fulfillment and friendship on a regular basis?   What if we volunteered for a service project or a mission trip that called us out of our routine and allowed us to experience something radically fresh?   

I have found that inspiration comes not from routine, but from the extraordinary in life.  Often engaging the extraordinary requires us to leave our rut and dare to do something different.  Just a thought.


A Green and Living Thing

"Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the seat of mockers.  But his delight is in the law of the Lord...he is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." -- Psalm 1.1-3

In recent years, drought has threatened many areas and loomed high on the scale of fears that might destroy lives and communities.  In some spots lakes and bodies of water shrunk to levels unseen for decades.  Communities drowned to form sporting lakes rose ghostlike as the water levels lowered.   Where once green and lush grasses and trees flourished there were acres of sand and blowing dirt.

In the modern American church there is a lot of discussion of the lack of growth, the aging congregations, and the lack of real evangelistic growth of the gospel being preached. There is increasing tension between the demands of the Gospel and the demands of the Culture. Lines of faith and spirituality blur.  Traditional values fall to the dictates of modern life, growing secularism, and a worldview that stems less from the Bible than popular opinion.

The church is scurrying around seeking relevance, community engagement, and social justice as primary goals.  Yet, we are like trees without leaves, bearing little fruit and desperately seeking something more than the dry sands of modern society.

Perhaps, like the tree in the verses, we struggle in a dry and barren land because we listen to the counsel of the wicked, we stand by and say nothing as faith is mocked, and we no longer delight in the law of the Lord.

The message is simple: when we find delight in the law of the Lord, when we do not listen to the advice of those who do not know God and we do not mock faith, we are trees that grow lush and productive fed by the streams of spiritual water.   To live in relationship with God is to be part of a green and living thing.  When we stop seeking relationships and when we stop drinking from that living water of spiritual vitality we petrify. 

Better to seek to send our roots searching for that fresh and flowing water of spiritual relationship.  Then, and only then, does our faith become a green and living thing.


Living In Interesting Times

One of the blessings of living in Oklahoma is the relatively tranquil life we share.  Yes, we have had our crises, but compared to what seems to be going on around the world, I think we are living in a good place.  We feel secure.  We trust our neighbors.   We do face bad weather of all sorts, but we do not live in anxiety about mad bombers generally.  Grant you, we were among the first to live through the tough event of a bombing terrorist.  It has occurred to me over time that much of what brought us through that time were the values that we shared in common as Oklahomans.

Those Oklahoma values are the point of this column.  I am convinced that we must not take our heritage and values for granted.  They bind us together in a community that makes this state a treasure among the fifty states of our union.  My spouse and I have lived in a variety of locales over the years, and I can say with no exaggeration that there is no place that I know of where I would rather live. 

I reject the image of a day when these qualities that make us Oklahoman' s would cease to be predominate as the norm of our communities. 

Having said that, our values need to be nurtured and defended.  They need to be nurtured within our families; instilled and passed on from generation to generation.  That requires intentionality on the part of citizens and families.  They need to be defended. 

Much in our culture is contrary to, and even hostile towards, the traditional values that make this a great state.  The message if often that we need to fall in line and get on board with values that have worked very poorly in other locations, but are the popular trend of the day.   

Oklahoman's would do well to be clear with our leaders on every level when these trends threaten to dissolve the time-tested positive values of our state.  We live in Oklahoma because it is a place where our families and communities may flourish within the matrix of qualities that made this the premier country in the world.  We want nothing less for ourselves and our future generations.


It is interesting that in a society that so praised the vigor of youth in the turbulent 1960's finds itself confronted with that which it so disdained.  Old age.

Somewhere along the way we lost the idea of the honor and respect of old age.  Somewhere along the way we idolized all that was young.  Talk about your schisms!  A hammer blow of division cut apart two aspects and stages of life that once contributed to the other in a healthy and symbiotic manner.  Youth, dumb, foolhardy, and not much into deep thought was in close quarters with Age, experienced, skilled, and knew enough to think about things from many angles.  The two halves became positive wholes.

I also suspect that all the ills of disrespected age may be our own fault.

Somewhere along that route we took where we lost the idea of honor and respect for old age we also picked up some bad habits.  Habits of narcissism, of having things our way, and minimizing the ability of others to grow in experience and skills.  The grumpy old men, the grouchy old women and the inability to give up the reigns of control helped drive that wedge even deeper between the generations.   The wrong headed idea that we could exit life to play invaded the church as well.   "I am too old to help anymore" has become a familiar chant of church members but have they really? 

The process of life is bringing up a new generation, sharing the wisdom and experience gained, but then having the strength to step back and let that younger generation assume control.   It is like that first time with a child on a bike with training wheels.  At some point, you have to let the bike, and the child, go on their own.  As you watched that child ride away, did that end your parenting role? Did that stop the guiding hand or the wise word?  No.

It is the same with life.  Your aches and pains may say, "Gosh, I am old."  You may be tempted to say, 'there is nothing I can do anymore."  

There is more you can do.  With the idea that retirement should be moved to 70 or even 75, there is a new understanding of what 'old' means.  People are remaining vigorous far longer than any previous generation.  Sometimes what ages us is not the years but the limit of our focus.  

So remain active in ministry and people caring as possible.  If ill health limits you find your area of Christian service at the phone, the computer, through letters and through prayer.

Too old?  You are just getting started!

Poland Music Trip