Unlocking the Mysteries of Lent
About the Guest
Many Christians have forgotten the "holy" in the holidays, and perhaps none more so than Easter. Barbara Rainey helps us rediscover Easter as we rediscover Lent, the season of preparation for the greatest holiday in the church year.
Barbara RaineyAfter graduating from the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, Barbara joined the staff of Cru® in 1971. With her husband Dennis, whom she married in 1972, the Rainey’s cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry committed to helping marriages and families survive and thrive in our generation. Barbara is a frequent speaker and guest on FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s award-winning nationally-syndicated daily radio broadcast. She is the author or coauthor of...more
Barbara Rainey helps us rediscover Easter as we rediscover Lent, the season of preparation for the greatest holiday in the church year.
Unlocking the Mysteries of Lent
Bob: Easter Sunday is about two months from now. I’m guessing you haven’t even started thinking about it yet. That’s what the Lenten season is for—to begin preparing our hearts for the celebration of the Resurrection. Barbara Rainey says, even if your church doesn’t participate in some Lenten practice, as a family, you ought to think about it.
Barbara: We do know about Lent—vaguely and generally. I think kids are aware of it too—they’re curious / they’re interested. So why not take advantage of that?—and say, “We will take this period of Lent—these six weeks—and we will do something intentionally, as a family, to teach our kids about the coming Resurrection that we will celebrate on Easter weekend.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, February 23rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
Even if you have never participated in any kind of Lenten activity before, there may be an opportunity for you, this year, to use the Lenten season to disciple your children. We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. A couple of questions, here, to begin with—just for clarification purposes. You and Barbara do not attend a Roman Catholic Church; is that correct?
Dennis: That’s correct—not Episcopalian, either.
Bob: You have friends who pastor an Episcopalian church; right?
Bob: Former friends? [Laughter]
Dennis: No, former Episcopalians.
Bob: They’re Anglicans; right?
Dennis: They are.
Bob: Good Anglican friends. Are you going to be attending a pancake supper on Shrove Tuesday this year?
Dennis: I will not.
Bob: Have you ever had ashes placed on your forehead on Ash Wednesday?
Dennis: You know—I was trying to think. I’m not sure about that.
Bob: You may have?
Dennis: I might have, at one point or another.
But I have to say, until Barbara really started studying Lent and what it’s all about, I kind of wondered what that was—
Bob: This was off your radar screen.
Dennis: —smudge; you know?
Dennis: A smudge on the forehead—it is like, “Now, what exactly is that about?” You could just say, “Well, he’s a good Baptist.” You know? [Laughter] “He didn’t know about those matters of Lent.”
Bob: And the reason you have paid a little more attention to these, of late, is that your wife has been looking at the Church calendar and at Lent, in particular; right?
Dennis: Well, she’s been looking at the holidays that families celebrate throughout the year. You made an interesting statement— in fact, Barbara joins us on FamilyLife Today. It looks a whole lot better here in the studio—
Bob: It always does. Welcome, Barbara.
Barbara: Thank you, gentlemen.
Dennis: —than when she’s not. No doubt about it. Welcome back, Honey.
Dennis: You made a statement to me—in fact, I think it was yesterday. Your real heart is to help families reclaim holidays which are Christian.
Barbara: Yes; most of the holidays that we celebrate have some kind of spiritual founding or connection. You know, even the history of our country and the July 4th holiday—there are spiritual truths woven into that too—but, more importantly, of course, are the Christian holidays that we celebrate every year—Christmas and Easter. Increasingly, people are paying attention to Lent. We want to help them know how to do that.
Dennis: You know, I think what Barbara is touching, Bob, is a nerve in families. I think families want to recapture holidays, especially those that do have the Christian roots to them.
Bob: Well, and most Evangelical Christians don’t pay a lot of attention to the Lenten season. They’ve heard of Shrove Tuesday or Ash Wednesday—
Barbara: Ash Wednesday; yes.
Bob: —and they know about Mardi Gras—that’s about as far as they get with anything related to Lent.
Barbara: That’s right.
Bob: And they know that some of their friends give something up during the Lenten season.
Bob: You really want to draw attention to this season of fasting that takes place 46 days before Easter. In fact, it kicks off with Ash Wednesday, which is next Wednesday—it’s March 1st, just around the corner. Tell us a little bit about why you think this is an important season for us to focus on.
Barbara: Well, there are a couple of reasons. One is, I think, that those of us who haven’t practiced Lent are curious about it. Those of us in the Evangelical churches—that don’t—we kind of wonder what that’s all about. I used to wonder, when I was a kid, growing up in the Methodist church, why my friends, who went to the Catholic church or the Episcopal church, got the ashes on their forehead. So that’s one reason—I think we want to know.
But I think, secondly, it’s a great opportunity for moms and dads, in particular, to use that six-week period to teach their children the importance of the coming of Easter.
You know, one of my great dreams is that we would be able to elevate the celebration of Easter Sunday, which really should be called Resurrection Day. I would love to see that elevated to the status of Christmas—not with gifts—but with that kind of fervor / that kind of attention. In most churches, we go to church; we sing some different songs on Easter Sunday; the kids get all dressed up. There might be Easter lilies; but we go home, and nothing has changed.
Bob: It is kind of a one-day—or maybe a one weekend—focus to Easter, as compared to Christmas, which starts before Thanksgiving and goes throughout December.
Barbara: Well, and for Christmas, we have the celebration of Advent. In the Church—many families / many churches practice Advent, which is preparing for the coming of Christ. In a sense, Lent is the same for Easter. Lent is the season of time in which we prepare for the celebration of the Resurrection.
It’s just that most of us don’t know what to do in Lent other than give up chocolate or Coke®—you know, give up something. And yet, there’s so much more to it than giving up something. That can be a part of it, but I really see it as a time of learning, and preparing, and anticipating the joy of the resurrection on Resurrection Sunday.
Bob: So you’re saying—whether your church is involved in any kind of formal, liturgical celebration / whether there’s a Lenten breakfast that you have at your church, or anything like that—
Dennis: What kind of pancakes did you call that?
Bob: Well, you have the pancake breakfast on Shrove Tuesday every year. It’s a big stack of pancakes that you’re supposed to eat. The whole idea is that you get gluttonous for a day because you’re about to fast for a period of time.
Barbara: Or it’s called Fat Tuesday.
Bob: That’s right. But you’re saying that moms and dads can bring, into their home, recognition of this season and begin to alert both themselves and their children to the fact that this is something we ought to be paying attention to.
Barbara: And the reason is because I think, in the culture, we do know about Mardi Gras / we do know about Fat Tuesday. We do know about Lent—vaguely and generally. I think kids are aware of it too—so they’re curious / they’re interested. So why not take advantage of that?—and say, “We will take this period of Lent—these six weeks—and we will do something intentionally, as a family, to teach our kids about the coming Resurrection that we will celebrate on Easter weekend.”
I think that holidays are a very natural, easy teaching time for families; because kids intuitively want to do something because they know other families are; and, “Why can’t we?” Why not provide something for families to help moms and dads actually do some intentional instruction of their kids during the Lenten season?
Dennis: I’ve been watching Barbara kind of chew on this idea and how she would go about equipping families to be more intentional. I was reflecting back, Bob, to when I was a boy.
We really didn’t talk about the preparation for Easter week or Resurrection Sunday. As we got closer, you know, bunnies would show up, little chickens, and then the eggs would be hidden. We would have fun coloring some eggs and some of those things, but there was not the intentional spiritual teaching that really is on Barbara’s heart.
I think this is the big takeaway for a couple or a family who is listening today. This season of Lent can really be a time to capture your children’s imagination around what is meant to prepare for the Messiah. I mean, we’ve read the rest of the story—we know what happened. But Lent can allow us to prepare our hearts, afresh, for what it meant that God became flesh—dwelt among us, was crucified on a cross, died on that cross on behalf of us and took the penalty for our sins, and then defeated death on the third day, rose again from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father.
As a result, we have hope! We know where we can spend eternity.
Bob: You and your team have come up with an idea—one way that a family could draw attention to the spiritual implications of the Resurrection throughout the Lenten season. It’s pretty cool! Explain to listeners what it is that you’ve come up with.
Barbara: Well, we’ve created a product called “The Messiah Mystery.” The reason we call it a mystery is because we’re asking families, who do this, to pretend that they don’t know the end of the story—that Jesus did come, and Jesus did die on the cross, and then was raised on the third day. We’re saying: “Alright! Get together, as a family, and pretend that you don’t know that Jesus has come.”
What we have in the journal—we call it a journal—it’s an 80-some page book. There are six sessions in the book—one for each week of Lent. It’s very simple to do / it’s very easy.
Moms and dads can just pick it up and start reading it. Each of the six sessions walks you through the Old Testament and shows how, from the very beginning in the Garden with Adam and Eve, God had a plan for redeeming us. God had a plan for fixing what was broken and bringing us back into a relationship with Him.
Dennis: And the thing I like about this is that she’s doing it under the motif of a mystery—”The Messiah Mystery”—around the idea, like CSI, where there are detectives—
Bob: You’re looking for clues, along the way.
Dennis: She really did a good job on this—of going back in the Old Testament and saying to kids, “Did you know there are some clues, back in the Garden, where Adam and Eve were?” You pull out a magnifying glass; and you actually find some of the answers, that are in very fine print, so that the kids can discover what the answer is after they’ve had a chance to look at the Bible and, hopefully, discover on their own.
Bob, the thing I like about this is that it doesn’t just teach good theology—it trains children how to study the Bible by observation.
Bob: So then, the journal—the 80-page journal—comes with a magnifying glass included?
Barbara: It does—it comes with a magnifying glass. It comes with two clue notebooks per kit. It also comes with a poster, which we can talk about, in a second, if you want to. The clue notebooks are for the kids to play Sherlock Holmes. They each have their little clue notebook and a pencil. They write down the discoveries that they find. If they’re little, they can color pictures or whatever. It gives kids a way to engage as they’re listening to the story being read. They can write down what they’re learning, and they can collect all of their answers.
So, it’s not just moms and dads teaching their kids truth; it’s an engaging, practical way of involving your children in the process of discovering truth in the Bible for themselves.
Bob: And the magnifying glass is there because, in the book, some of the clues are in really tiny type?
Barbara: Yes; for instance, in each session, there are Bible verses to read. The verses in the Genesis story that hint at the coming Savior are printed in there. Then, there are questions that you read, and ask, and you discuss. Then, the answer to those questions is printed in a tee-nine-sy font that you, literally, have to use the magnifying glass.
Bob: Tee-nine-sy?—is that what you called it?
Barbara: Yes, tee-nine-sy.
Dennis: Tee-nine-sy! [Laughter]
Barbara: You’ve never heard that word? [Laughter]
Dennis: Let me read just a little bit of the beginning of this, which will give you a little bit of an idea about the mystery that Barbara is unfolding here. This is called “Setting the Stage.” Barbara writes:
Have you ever tried to solve a mystery? Some of the most fascinating detective stories are full of twists and turns that leave you surprised and hungry for more. The clues that led to the mystery’s solution may be complex or turn up in unexpected places.
But, did you know that God’s story, in the Bible, is actually a series of clues? It’s true! And it’s one of the most mind-boggling mysteries of all time. You see, with God, nothing is random. Every detail is ordered with purpose. So, His clues aren’t haphazard or left behind accidentally. They’re purposeful and perfectly orchestrated. And He is eager for us to find every one of them.
Now, you can picture reading that to some young children—they’re going: “The Bible is a mystery? The Bible has clues—that are stuck in there by God—for us to discover?” See, that’s what I like about this—this is not boring our kids with the Bible / putting them to sleep with the Bible. It’s causing them to look at the Bible with fresh eyes and go, “What was God hinting about there?”
He began to hint that He was going to send someone—a Messiah—who would, ultimately, rescue us from our sins.
Bob: So, “The Messiah Mystery” takes them through a series of Old Testament prophecies pointing to the coming of Messiah.
Bob: And each different prophecy tells us a little bit more about whom we’re looking for; right?
Barbara: That’s right. Each session is going to focus on a particular story. The first one starts in the Garden. Another one is all about the tabernacle. Part of what I love about the tabernacle is—each session, there’s a little practical thing you do with your family. On the tabernacle—the instructions are to get some chalk, and to go outside with a tape measure, and literally draw on your driveway—or out on the street, if you live on a street that doesn’t have much traffic—draw the dimensions of the tabernacle. Draw off the line that separates the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. Then, sit in the tabernacle and do your lesson.
Now, obviously, if there’s bad weather, you make a tent in the living room with chairs, and cushions, and blankets, and pretend that that’s your tabernacle.
But, how cool would that be?—to actually draw the shape of the tabernacle and learn about where things were located in the tabernacle—because all of the elements of the tabernacle talk about Jesus. Most of us don’t think about that. So, as these stories string together, over six weeks—by the time you get to Holy week / you get to Easter week, you’re so ready to learn about Jesus and what He did. Kids have so much more anticipation—that we really can celebrate the Resurrection in a whole new way.
Bob: I can see where a homeschooling family would be all over this—
Barbara: They would love it!
Bob: —because it can fit into the school day very easily. But, for those who aren’t homeschoolers,—
Bob: —is this something?—I mean, I’m just imagining—out in the street, at night, with chalk—you know, after dinner or whatever it is—
Dennis: You know—we’re talking about once a week for six weeks.
Dennis: So, you’re not talking about every night having to discipline yourself for 30/45 minutes every night.
You’re talking about a structured family time which, frankly, every family ought to have, anyway, once a week—something that is purposeful—to have fun and get to know a little bit about God in the process and about His claims upon each individual’s life. But, that’s what Barbara has put together, here, in “The Messiah Mystery.” It equips moms and dads with a bunch of family nights that point toward Easter.
Barbara: Well, one of my goals is to make it easy. I remember, when we were raising our kids, it was so hard to find good material—for one thing. Secondly, to get everything that you need, and to gather the kids, and to prepare ahead of time—it was more trouble than it was worth. Half the time, we didn’t do it like we wanted to. We felt guilty.
I’ve made this really easy! So, all you have to—there’s a supply list to get, in the front—it’s not more than six or seven things; and you don’t even have to do that. But it’s designed so that you can pick it up and just start reading. You don’t have to prepare ahead of time.
It is one of my goals—is to make it easy for moms and dads to use. I realize that not everybody will finish all six—it’s life! You’re going to have interruptions. You’re going to have kids who get sick. You’re going to have things that will happen, and you won’t finish all six. But try again next year. Maybe, next year, you’ll get four instead of two.
Dennis: My encouragement to families is: “Begin now to be intentional about what you’re going to do instead of doing something like everybody else does. Instead, become intentional—like Barbara writes in “The Messiah Mystery”—like God was / He didn’t allow any detail to just be random—He was very intentional / very purposeful. He was leading.” I like the way she puts it later on in the book—she said, “It was like God was dropping bread crumbs—little bread crumbs—on the trail for us to follow so that we could see that, ‘Yes, Jesus really was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. He was spoken of there, and He came.’”
So, when you come to Resurrection Sunday, you’re going to have a whole new appreciation because, in essence, you will have taught your children some of the best biblical truth that any family could ever learn, under any circumstance.
Barbara: Well, that just reminds me of a young friend of mine—she has four boys. I think the oldest is about sixth grade, and the youngest is about four or five. She wrote back, and hers is one of my favorite quotes—she said:
I love that we have a way to teach this information in a way that is fun and very interesting. The whole uncovering clues concept has captured the boys’ attention in a new way—better than if we were just reading passages of Scripture, without the look-for-hidden-clues motivation. Surprisingly, the adults—my husband and I—are getting as much or more out of it. You would think that I would know all of this stuff from the upbringing I have had [she’s a pastor’s daughter], but I feel like a new student.
Piecing together the historical anticipation of Jesus Christ is something that I didn’t learn at church.
And that’s one of my favorite comments, because I really want parents to learn too. This isn’t just for the kids. I’m excited that moms and dads are going to be learning, with their children, things that they didn’t know before, in the Old Testament, either.
Dennis: I’m glad you brought that up, because I was going to add that this isn’t just for couples who have children. This is excellent for a young couple, starting out, because this is really a rich, dynamic story of uncovering these clues. I promise you, “If you don’t find out something new, as a result of doing all these lessons, I’ll buy it back from you!” I’ll pay for it, because I went to seminary; okay? And I’m sitting, across the table, reading what Barbara has put together—I’m going: “I didn’t know that. That’s pretty cool!” Now, maybe I wasn’t a good seminary student—
Bob: Weren’t paying attention in class! [Laughter]
Well, I’m just thinking—if folks want to do this, corresponding with the observance of Lent—it starts next Wednesday, March 1st. Easter, this year, is on April 16th. That’s one of the reasons we’re talking about all of this right now—is so that folks can get this resource and start using it during the Lenten season. Even if you get it a week after Lent starts, that’s okay; you can still do this.
Our hope is that more people will spend more time, before Easter arrives, thinking about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as we lead up to the celebration of the Resurrection. Don’t wait until the week before Easter and go: “Oh, it’s Easter week. We ought to be thinking about Jesus this week.” No; think about it from now until Easter, over a period of weeks, and get your kids thinking about it too.
Of course, we have “The Messiah Mystery” available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
If you’d like to get one of these resources and start using it with your children—help prepare everybody with some anticipation / a little excitement about the coming of the Resurrection—go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Get a copy of Barbara Rainey’s, “The Messiah Mystery.” Everything you need—the journal, the magnifying glass, the clue notebooks, the poster—I mean, it’s all in there.
There’s more information about the resource online; again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com if you need more information, or if you’d like to order “The Messiah Mystery.” Or you can call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY. So, again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; the toll-free number is 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
As we’re talking about all of this, I’m thinking back to a survey that we took—this was many years ago. We asked our listeners, “What do you need help with most when it comes to parenting?”
We thought we would get—I think we thought sibling rivalry would be number one, or conflict resolution among kids,—something in that order—teaching your kids how to obey / how to behave. The number one thing parents said they wanted help with—the spiritual training, and nurturing, and development of their children. That’s one of the reasons we’ve gone to work to create resources like Resurrection Eggs®, and “The Messiah Mystery”, and the other resources that we’ve created for families to use—so that there could be some purposeful, intentional discipleship going on as you raise your children.
Here, at FamilyLife, we’re committed to providing you with practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and your family—that’s our mission / that’s our goal. We want to see every home become a godly home. Some of you, who are regular listeners and monthly Legacy Partners, you share that goal with us—
—you’re people who believe that marriage and family is vital to the church; it’s vital to our country; it’s vital to who we are as a nation. We appreciate your partnering with us so that this radio program can expand and be heard by more and more people / our website can be reaching more and more people every year, which has been happening at an accelerated rate over the last couple of years. You’re making that possible as you support this ministry, and we’re grateful for your partnership with us in this endeavor.
If you can make a donation today to support this ministry, either by becoming a new Legacy Partner and agreeing to make a monthly donation, or simply by making a one-time donation, we’d love to send you Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s devotional guide for couples called Moments with You. It’s our thank-you gift to you when you support this ministry with your donation. You can do that, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate.
Or you can request the devotional and make your donation by writing to us at FamilyLife Today, PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk more about how we can use the weeks leading up to Easter to do a little intentional discipling and some Bible study—some fun Bible study—with the kids. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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