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Lent Reading Challenge 2018 join me as I attempt to read Acts and Paul's Letters in 40 Days

Lent Reading Challenge – Acts and Paul’s Letter in 40 Days

Disclaimer: the two links to books in this post are affiliate links. If you click on the link and then purchase them from Amazon, I will receive a small incentive for this, as per my disclosure policy

Can you believe that Lent is already upon us? I feel as if the year has only just begun and suddenly we’re preparing for Easter. Admittedly this is probably because I’ve spent most of this year housebound due to a massive flare up of health issues – I haven’t managed to make a church service since New Year’s Eve! Which is probably why I decided that instead of giving something up for Lent this year, I’d focus on digging deep into my faith with some daily bible study. And, after some careful consideration, I’ve decided on my Lent Reading Challenge – Acts and Paul’s Letters in 40 Days.

Lent Reading Challenge 2018 join me as I attempt to read Acts and Paul's Letters in 40 Days

Why Acts and Paul’s Letters?

I’m pretty new to Bible Study, having only really dipped in and out of the Bible until quite recently. There are whole books that I haven’t read, especially in the Old Testament. But one thing I have noticed is that whilst I haven’t read all of Paul’s letters, the verses that I often turn to for encouragement and support come from one of them. And so I want to read them in full.

I want to learn more about the Early Church, and where better to do that than in Paul’s Letters, which are some of the earliest parts of the New Testament to be written. So often we begin with the Four Gospels, don’t we? And yet most of Paul’s Letters predate them. I want to explore the letters that Paul wrote to the various fledgling congregations, bringing the Good News of Christ to non-Jews, whilst remaining rooted in his own Jewish background. In fact, the more I learn about Paul himself, the more intrigued I become…

Paul, the jewish theologian

Last year I bought a book called, “Paul, The Jewish Theologian: A Pharisee among Christians, Jews, and Gentiles“. You know how sometimes you see a book and just know that you need to read it? This was one of those books for me. I have only just picked it up and started reading it, but already I am loving it.

As the author so clearly explains in the introduction, Paul is a fascinating character because he continued to consider himself to be a Pharisee throughout his life, despite being, “rejected by the synagogue and misunderstood by the church”.

The author continues to say that, “sometimes, as Christians, we have accepted Paul’s teachings about Jesus while rejecting his love of the Hebrew Bible, as well as his Judaic heritage.” And this is something I am keen to avoid, by reading the book as I work my way through Acts and Paul’s Letters.

reading the bible in its historical and cultural context

One of the things that I have been learning about over the past couple of years is the importance of Religious Literacy, that is reading Sacred Texts through a historical and cultural lens. The books of the Bible were all written in very specific historical and cultural contexts, and whilst they contain eternal truths, we must always remember that the way in which these truths are expressed and explained are connected to the time of their writing.

For me, this understanding was entirely influential in my decision to explore Christianity further and eventually decide to be baptised last year. Being able to explore how and why the texts came to be, deepened my connection to them. I began to understand what they were saying far easier than when I had little to no context for them. And in turn I started to grasp how they could be as relevant for me today as they were to the original readers.

Paul – a theologian in a changing world

This is why I think I feel so drawn to Paul’s Letters. His entire story fascinates me, from his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus through to his letters of encouragement and explanation to those who were also trying to accept a whole new way of living.

He understood perfectly what it was like to have a whole change of heart that was so powerful it changed everything. He knew what it was like to feel inspired to change the way you lived, when doing so was downright scary. Let’s remember, he lived in a time of severe persecution – indeed, he had once been the persecutor, so he knew the risks!

A message as powerful today as it was back then

How much does that sound like life today, in many ways? How many people throughout the world live in fear because of their faith? How many people, even in places where freedom of religion exists, still face discrimination or ridicule for their beliefs? How is it, that 2,000 years have gone by and we’re still facing the same challenges?

We see churches trying to connect with new generations of people in an increasingly secular society. We see people abandoning religion, because it has felt too rigid, and turning instead to New Age Spirituality (which is, as it says on the tin, a new way of exploring faith). And we see more and more interfaith dialogue beginning to take place. For all the times in which we are told, “God is dead” or “Churches are dying”, I see just as many examples of people doing exactly what Paul did – trying to figure out how to live their faith in a new way.

interfaith dialogue – as old as the hills

And that’s something that excites me, as I find myself balancing my faith in the eternal Christ alongside other lesser known expressions of faith. And the more I do that, the more I find other people doing it too. No longer do I feel as if my exploration of Christianity needs to be at odds with my exploration of the Divine Feminine or Pagan Sabbats. None of these have to be exclusive of the others, Paul taught us that in so many ways:

“After all, Paul is a Pharisee living among the Christians, Jews, and pagan Gentiles. He is a bridge builder. He confronts hostilities from many factions in the church as well as from the Greco-Roman world in which he ministers. As a Jewish theologian, he labors diligently to win acceptance for non-Jews among all Christian believers.” – Brad H. Young (Paul, The Jewish Theologian).

i want to be a bridge builder

Isn’t that a wonderful way of describing Paul? He’s a bridge builder. And we need more of those in our world, don’t we? There is so much strife all around us, and sometimes it feels like everyone is out for an argument. But as much as I love a good debate (and I do), I do not want to argue. I want to help build bridges, and how better to begin than by reading the words of one of the greatest bridge builders?

Do you want to be a bridge builder too? Why not join me in my Lent Reading Challenge and work through Acts (starting with Paul’s conversion) and Paul’s Letters in their chronological order? I’ve devised a 40 Day Reading Plan, using my Daily Bible, and I’d love to hear how you get on with it if you decide to try it too.

lent reading challenge – Acts and Paul’s Letters in 40 days

 

DayReading
1Acts 8:1-3 & 9:1-31
2Acts 13:1 – 15:21
3Acts 15:22 – 17:34
4Acts 18:1 – 20:38
5Acts 21:1 – 23:35
6Acts 24:1 – 26:32
7Acts 27:1 – 28:31
81 Thessalonians 1:1 – 3:13
91 Thessalonians 4:1 – 5:28
102 Thessalonians 1:1 – 3:18
11Galatians 1:1 – 2:21
12Galatians 3:1 – 4:31
13Galatians 5:1 – 6:18
141 Corinthians 1:1 – 3:23
151 Corinthians 4:1 – 6:20
161 Corinthians 7:1 – 9:27
171 Corinthians 10:1 – 12:31
181 Corinthians 13:1 – 16:24
192 Corinthians 1:1 – 3:18
202 Corinthians 4:1 – 7:16
212 Corinthians 8:1 – 10:18
222 Corinthians 11:1 – 13:13
23Romans 1:1 – 3:20
24Romans 3:21 – 5:21
25Romans 6:1 – 8:17
26Romans 8:18 – 10:21
27Romans 11:1 – 13:14
28Romans 14:1 – 16:27
29Philippians 1:1 – 2:30
30Philippians 3:1 – 4:23
31Colossians 1:1 – 2:23
32Colossians 3:1 – 4:18
33Philemon 1 – 25
34Ephesians 1:1 – 2:22
35Ephesians 3:1 – 4:32
36Ephesians 5:1 – 6:24
371 Timothy 1:1 – 3:16
381 Timothy 4:1 – 6:21
39Titus 1:1 – 3:15
402 Timothy 1:1 – 4:22

If you do decide to join in with this reading challenge, please do let me know! I’ll be sharing my thoughts over on instagram and Facebook as I work through it. And if you’re on Pinterest, why not pin the image below so you can come back to the reading plan any time you like…

Lent Reading Challenge Acts and Paul's Letters in 40 Days

40 Items Clothing Lent Give Away

(Late) Reflections on Lent, Easter, & My Christian Journey

I had planned on writing this update last weekend, to coincide with the Easter celebrations, but unfortunately I was rather poorly.  I was overcome with “brain fog” alongside absolute exhaustion, and so putting together a blog post was beyond my capabilities. But, as the saying goes, better late than never, hey?

Lent Reflections

So, first things first I wanted to update you on how I got on with my plan to give away 40 items of clothing during Lent. You may recall that I decided to do this, as I didn’t feel there was anything I could give up which would have a significant effect on my life. And giving something away reminded me that no matter how weak and poorly I feel, no matter how little I may possess, there is always something I can do to help another. Giving away 40 items of clothing, which was just under half of my entire wardrobe, allowed me to help a charity whilst also focusing on how these are just items, and losing some of them isn’t the end of the world!

That being said, I really didn’t anticipate just how difficult I would find it. First, I struggled with the daily aspect of it. Because I am very sick at the moment and have some days where simply getting out of bed, feeding myself and my family, and doing the absolute bare minimum to keep things ticking over, adding in a new activity can be challenging. It may sound easy enough, standing in front of your wardrobe and choosing an item to give away, but actually when you get caught up in just getting through the day, you tend to forget. There are several times throughout Lent when I missed a day or two and had to play catch up, choosing more than one item to ensure I didn’t fall behind. Those were the days when it really hit me just how many items I had promised to give away!

And then there was the fact that I wanted to be sure that what I gave away would be useful to another. I didn’t want to just give away clothes I rarely wore – I wanted them to be clothes that other people would find useful. I also wanted to be sure that I left myself a working wardrobe, one which I could turn to and know that I have an outfit for every occasion. In fact, that thinking helped me to create a sort of “must keep” pile, that then freed me up to choose any of the other items to give away. My “must keep” items included jeans, leggings, a couple of pairs of smart trousers, a few summer skirts, and a couple of dresses, plus a couple of tops to suit each of the bottom halves I had chosen. Oh, and most of my jumpers and cardigans – I get cold very easily.

All in all, it was a challenging experience, but one I am really glad I did. I now have the tidiest wardrobe I’ve ever had and actually find it easier to decide what to wear now than I did when I had twice as many clothes to choose from. And I have a big bag full of clothes to take to charity.

40 Items Clothing Lent Give Away

There are:

5 Dresses
3 Skirts
2 Pairs of Jeans
1 Pair of Jogging Bottoms
2 Zip-Up Tops
2 Jumpers
4 Cardigans
1 Long Sleeved Top
3 Long Tops (which go well with leggings)
6 T-Shirts
5 Vest Tops
2 Blouses
2 Smart Tops
1 Shirt
1 Vest (that you can wear over a long sleeved top)

Fitting them all on my bed to take a photo of them was rather challenging, so apologies for the blurry photo!

Easter Reflections

Of course, all of this was leading up to the highlight of the Christian year – Easter! This is something I have always struggled with, because until now I have been far more inspired by Jesus’ life and ministry than what happened during that first Easter. I also really struggled with the idea of a ransom for our sins. But this year I have really started to find some kind of deeper peace and understanding around it all.

I’ve realised that, for me, there is a much greater power in the message that Christ continues to live amongst us, touching us in ways that transcend the physical, than in the idea of a bodily resurrection. When I read the Gospel accounts of the resurrection, I have come to interpret them as symbolic rather than something to be taken literally. I know that for many, many people this is key to the Christian message, and for many years that was  one of the main reasons why I felt I couldn’t call myself a Christian at all. And yet, now I realise that it’s okay to interpret it this way. To me, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is not crucial to my belief that Christ overcame death and continues to live among us. After all, if it was, why did he only remain in his bodily form for a short time afterwards? No, for me, it’s more about how he continues to inspire generations of people around the world, 2,000 years after his death.

And so that is what I celebrated last Sunday – the fact that I feel God’s presence in my life, that I know that Jesus is calling me to follow him, and that countless other people have experienced this too. Nothing else really matters…

My Christian Journey – Choosing to be Baptised

Of course, a lot of this newfound confidence in my faith has come from the support of those around me. I am part of a wonderful church community, and also have a very dear friend who listens to me ramble on about both my thoughts and my doubts, and empowers me to explore things at my own pace. We spent a wonderful day together at the Cathedral during Lent, and have planned to make it a regular occurrence, as it was so good for us both to spend time together and quietly sit in the Cathedral doing our own reflection.

Prayer Candles

A large part of my reflection has come from reading books like Setting Jesus Free by John Churcher and The Case for God by Karen Armstrong. It was the latter book, in fact, which first made me realise that I was overcomplicating things and holding myself back from fully integrating into the church community. I realised that I was hoping to understand it all and feel at peace with everything before taking a more dedicated step such as Baptism, and yet the reality is I may never feel that and actually it is more important to simply dedicate yourself to the journey than to have all the answers.

I found myself singing along at the beginning of a service one Sunday and I just knew that now was the time to do it. I can’t explain it, I just felt my heart opening and it just felt right. So I talked to our Minister after the service, about both my thoughts and my reservations, and he was wonderfully supportive. He pointed out that I am already involved in the church, as I attend Bible Study and went to the Church Council meeting, so there was no reason not to feel a part of the Church Family. And he reminded me that “God is big enough for everyone”.

And so, I find myself now counting down the days until my own Baptism and Confirmation into the Methodist Church (and the Baptism of Little Man) on 30th April. We had planned to do it on Easter Sunday, but my Grandma was away and I really want her there. It works out quite nicely though, as it is 2 days after my birthday and part of the Bank Holiday weekend too, so we can really enjoy some quality family time together around it.

I must admit I’m a little bit nervous about it, not because I’m not ready for it, just because it is such a big thing. The thought of standing in front of everyone, knowing that they will all be welcoming us into their Church Family, just makes me squirm a little – it’s too much like being in a spotlight for my liking!! I felt nervous enough when we got married and had to say our vows in front of everyone, and this feels very much the same to me – I’m looking forward to it, but I shall be happy once the standing in front of everyone is over.

Phew, that was quite a lot to fit into a single post, wasn’t it? It’s amazing just how much has happened over Lent and Easter in my life this year. How was your Easter?

 

 

Christian Bloggers UK Easter Tag

Christian Bloggers UK – Easter Tag

Today is Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Day), meaning that Lent is almost upon us. For many years this didn’t really mean anything to me – my family were not religious, we didn’t even bother having pancakes most years, and Lent was just something that bypassed me completely.

But in recent years I’ve tried to be a bit more focused on the opportunity this time of year gives us to reflect upon the way we’re living our lives (what do we need to give up?) as well as the historical, cultural, and spiritual meanings behind our Easter celebrations.

Which is why I was delighted to be tagged by Rachel from Mum on a Mission, who I recently discovered thanks to the Christian Bloggers UK Facebook Group. The premise is really easy – just 10 questions to answer – but it gives you the opportunity to reflect on what Lent and Easter means to you. If you’d like to join in, please feel free to copy and paste the list of questions at the end of this post!

Christian Bloggers UK Easter Tag

1. How are you celebrating Lent this year?

This year I am planning to choose one item of clothing every single day and put it aside ready to donate to charity at the end of Lent. I saw the idea on a Facebook post from a Salvation Army Corps and thought it was brilliant, because it not only gets you to focus on “giving up” material goods that may be surplus to your needs, it also helps you give to others.

For me this is quite a big thing, because I rarely buy myself clothes. Most of my wardrobe consists of hand-me-down clothes, or items I’ve had for years (a prime example being that one of the dresses I wore for a blogging conference was over 10 years old!) Don’t get me wrong, I like clothes, I just cannot bring myself to justify buying new clothes when I have perfectly suitable ones in my wardrobe.

So, for me, giving away clothes is a massive deal, not just because I won’t be replacing them, but because I usually cling onto them until they are falling apart! But over the past couple of years I’ve been given quite a few items of clothing for Christmas presents and the odd hand-me-down, so my wardrobe is in need of a good clear out anyway. But instead of going through and trying to simply clear space, I am hoping that a daily requirement to purposefully choose one item to donate (and which will make a difference to someone else) will help me focus on how blessed I am and also how blessed it is to give.

Edited to add: I was honoured to be interviewed on Inspirational Breakfast about this on Tuesday 7th March – you can listen to the interview below.

 

2. What does Lent mean for you?

To be honest with you, I’m still trying to figure this one out. You’ll have noticed that I recently wrote about how I’m only just starting to even feel able to consider myself a Christian and my views certainly make it challenging. For instance, the idea of a ransom for our sins just doesn’t sit well with me, and yet that’s pretty crucial to the modern understanding of the message of Easter, right?

That’s not to say that it doesn’t mean anything to me. Last year I wrote a post on my other blog about called, “How and Why I’m Sharing the Easter Story with My Child“, which focused on my rather liberal interpretation of it all. So just because I haven’t figured it out yet, doesn’t mean I’m not working on it. In fact I am currently reading the book, “The Case for God: What Religion Really Means” by Karen Armstrong, which has reminded me how we don’t need to have it all figured out to seek a relationship with God.

As Karen writes, “[…] we think that the concept of God should be easy and that religion ought to be readily accessible to anybody. ‘That book was really hard!’ readers have told me reproachfully, shaking their heads in faint reproof. ‘Of course it was!’ I want to reply. ‘It was about God.'” Those were the second and third sentences in the book’s introduction, and I knew straight away I was going to love it! It is hard going, it isn’t something you can just pick up and read anywhere – it makes you question and think and sometimes I have to read a sentence 2 or 3 times before it really sinks in. But I love it all the same, because of the very fact it reminds me that God is so unimaginably huge, it’s okay that I haven’t got an answers to these questions.

3. What things have you given up for Lent in the past, and did you succeed or fail?

I haven’t given much up in the past to be honest, because I’m usually totally disorganised and realise part way through that it’s Lent and I’ve already missed the beginning of it! However I did partially give up social media a few years ago. I say partially because it was quite a last minute thing and I knew that there were the odd things coming up which people would contact me about via social media rather than via email. So I logged in occasionally to check nobody had sent me a direct message or tagged me, but I didn’t log in daily, I didn’t scroll down the timeline, and I didn’t respond to anything other than direct messages which required a response.

I really enjoyed the break from social media actually, and ended up having a social media hiatus (especially from Facebook and Twitter) for several months at the beginning of last year. Stepping away really helped me to understand how much of an impact it had on my life (my anxiety levels improved dramatically!) and I was really quite hesitant to go back to it, especially Facebook which had become quite toxic to me. When I did return, I limited my profile and timeline and friends list significantly, making sure I only saw certain updates, and began using groups more effectively rather than simply scrolling my timeline. That all made a real difference to my experience of it, and it was all thanks to taking a break.

I think that’s where Lent is really powerful – by giving something up for 40 days you begin to see the impact that thing had on you. If it’s really challenging for you to give something up, then that thing has more control over you than it probably should have. “Everything in moderation” is a great phrase, but sometimes we have to step completely away from something to realise what we thought was moderation was in fact excessively impacting on our lives. We can then go back with a better mindset and create a better relationship with whatever it was, be it social media, certain foods, or bad habits.

4. Have you ever taken part in an Easter bonnet competition? ( If so post the picture for us all!)

No, I can’t say I have. I remember my mum making Easter Bonnets for the kids when she was a childminder, but I don’t think we ever made any. I’m not even 100% sure what it entails, to be quite honest with you. I’m off to Google Easter Bonnets now…

5. What is your favourite pancake topping?

Hmmm, the few times we had them growing up it was simply lemon and sugar. Then when I went to Russia at the end of my first year of uni and then again during my third year, I discovered a whole new appreciation for pancakes.

There were little kiosks at the end of many roads, where they made a HUGE pancake on a massive griddle pan (using what looked like a squeegee window cleaning thing to get an even coverage) and then they dolloped your topping in the middle and deftly folded it over itself several times until you got a lovely little square package. My favourite topping was always chocolate spread for those!

We also went round to tea at someone’s house once (we’d met her at a school event we’d been asked to speak at) and she brought out a massive stack of pancakes and various toppings for us to enjoy whilst we listened to music and she practised her English with us. Another time we went to a school event with younger kids, and the mums had brought various snacks, including pancakes, for us to enjoy. Seriously, pancakes work for any occasion!

Tonight I’ll be making a big stack of pancakes and TJ and I will enjoy some of them as savoury ones (with cheese, ham, salami etc) and some as sweet desserts (with fruit, jam, and lemon and sugar). I have always preferred savoury over sweet whereas TJ has a sweet tooth, so making a mix works really well for us. Little Man does not like pancakes, so he’ll be having fishfingers and chips haha

I’d like to point out that my husband managed to convince himself that last Tuesday was pancake day, even waking me up with the pancake song! And in my half-awake state I agreed to making pancakes that evening. So we’ve already had a trial run, because I didn’t work out until afterwards that he’d got the wrong week haha

6. How do you celebrate Easter Day?

Honestly, we don’t have a specific way of doing this. As a child it really wasn’t a big deal for us. Even though we were off school for the holidays, all I really remember is that it was usually my Grandma’s birthday and that mine was coming up too. We didn’t even have Easter eggs – my mum preferred to buy us a bar of chocolate and give us a few squares each day through the holiday.

Last year was the first time I went to church on Easter Sunday for a long time (perhaps even only the second time ever, I can’t quite remember). It was a really lovely service, we were all given a daffodil to take to the front and add to the display around a cross, and the Minister made it really accessible to even the youngest people there. So we shall be going to church again this Easter Sunday too.

We’ll probably also do some kind of roast dinner, because we don’t eat meat very often and it’s nice to make it a real treat. Then we may take a walk in the local park to get out and celebrate Spring too – new life!

7. What is your favourite Easter food?

I don’t really have any foods I associate with Easter. My dad played football every Sunday until he turned 40, and so he didn’t really want a big roast dinner at the weekend. We used to have our roast dinner in the middle of the week, so it was rare we’d have anything special on Easter Sunday. I think we might have gone to my Grandma’s once or twice, but I think that was when Easter fell on her birthday more than just an Easter celebration.

I can’t even say chocolate is my favourite Easter food, because I’ve always had to limit my intake of it. During my teens I didn’t touch chocolate for several years, as we weren’t sure whether it was contributing to my migraines. And even though I eat it now, it still affects me if I eat more than a small bar a day (sometimes even that affects me). I think maybe I need to create a new food tradition for our family…

8. What would you encourage others to think about during Easter time?

I think, for me, it is all about hope – even after the darkest days of our lives there can still be the most beautiful and transforming light that shines upon us. Whether you understand that in the Christian story of the Resurrection, or in a more secular view of Spring coming after the harsh Winter months, I think that message of hope is something we all need, now more than ever.

9. What activities do you take part in during Holy Week?

Um… none.

Actually, I once went with my friend (whose parents are Salvation Army Officers) on the Good Friday Walk of Witness, where various churches come together and walk down the High Street to the Cenotaph together. We randomly bumped into my Grandma there and so she and two of her church friends took me and my friend for dinner at the local hotel, which sticks in my mind as a really beautiful day of “togetherness”.

But other than that I really haven’t done anything during Holy Week. Maybe Little Man and I will take part in the Good Friday Walk of Witness this year…

10. Who else would you like to nominate to take part in the Easter Tag?

Okay, so I’m going to tag my friend Rachel, from Life Story, who is the only other mum with a young child at our church. We have some really fascinating chats about Christianity and faith, however I know that this may not fit on her website. So you’re not obliged to take part, Rachel!!

I’d also like to tag Lizzie Somerset, who I’ve come to know better this past year through a couple of Facebook Groups and the Share The Joy linky. It will be good to read your answers to these, Lizzie!

Finally, I’m going to tag Peter from Inspired By Faith, who to be honest would probably have taken part without the tag as I know he writes regularly about his faith. However Peter had a wonderful conversation with me when I first joined the Christian Bloggers UK Facebook Group and I’d love to read his answers to these questions!

And if I haven’t tagged you but you still want to take part, please do feel free to simply do so! All you have to do is copy and paste the questions below into your own blog post, and then share it with others. Have fun!

1. How are you celebrating Lent this year?
2. What does Lent mean for you?
3. What things have you given up for Lent in the past, and did you succeed or fail?
4. Have you ever taken part in an Easter bonnet competition? ( If so post the picture for us all!)
5. What is your favourite pancake topping?
6. How do you celebrate Easter Day?
7. What is your favourite Easter food?
8. What would you encourage others to think about during Easter time?
9. What activities do you take part in during Holy Week?
10. Who else would you like to nominate to take part in the Easter Tag?


Please note: there is an affiliate link in this post – if you click on the link to Amazon and purchase Karen Armstrong’s book, I will receive money for this.