Making the Lenten Season More Meaningful, with Barbara RaineyA Meaningful Teaching Opportunity
Leslie Basham: Barbara Rainey says the Easter season is more than just egg hunts and chocolate bunnies.
Barbara Rainey: The resurrection needs to be a grand, glorious, wonderful celebration not with parties, not with gifts like we do at Christmas and all of that. But somehow we have to capture the importance of the resurrection in our own lives and in our families and in our culture as believers.
Leslie: She’ll explain how to do that today on Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, February 17.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Well, I’m delighted to have back with us on Revive Our Hearts today my good friend Barbara Rainey. She was with us back in the fall as we talked about the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and how to make those a meaningful time of Christ-centered celebration for your family. We’re coming up in just a few weeks on the Lenten season leading up to Easter, and Barbara has a lot of great ideas and resources available to help make this a significant time for your family.
So Barbara, thank you for being back with us and for helping us think about how we can have a really meaningful celebration leading up to Easter.
Barbara: Well, thanks, Nancy. I’m really glad to be here.
Nancy: For those who haven’t heard Barbara before, she’s been a guest on our program a number of times. She and her husband, Dennis, are the co-founders of FamilyLife which is the ministry that God used to help launch Revive Our Hearts. So we have a special place in our heart for you, Barbara, and your husband and the staff there at FamilyLife. It’s been a great partnership that we had over those early years of Revive Our Hearts.
You are the mother of six grown children, nineteen, soon to be twenty, grandchildren. So you have a lot of thoughts and creativity and ideas about how to talk to our children about the Lord. One of the great ways of doing that is those really teachable moments surrounding the holidays in our calendar.
Now, we just passed Valentine’s Day, and you have some resources that can help make that meaningful. But nine or ten weeks from now we’re going to be celebrating Resurrection Sunday, Easter, some people call it. And in the weeks leading up to that day is a season that many believers call the Lenten Season. That’s a concept that’s not so familiar to a lot of people.
But I started several years ago taking time to observe that season and to focus on Christ and on His passion and who He is and what He has done. It’s been such a special way of preparing my heart for Resurrection Sunday. So I’ve become a big fan of encouraging people to focus on the Easter story and everything surrounding it in these weeks leading up to Easter.
Now, some people might wonder why we’re talking about this in February. The season of Lent doesn’t start until March 5. But you have some resources available to help families celebrate this in a meaningful way. And we wanted to air this early enough that they could know about them, perhaps order them, and be ready to celebrate this Lenten season with their family.
So that’s kind of the backdrop. Thank you for joining us, and I’m very excited about letting our listeners and friends know about these resources. I want to just ask, as you were growing up, was Easter a big thing in your family? Do you remember how you celebrated it or anything about it?
Barbara: Well, I think Easter in some ways was a bigger deal when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s. It was a little bit less commercialized. And of course, we always got our new Easter clothes, and it was the beginning of spring. Where I grew up in the north it was always cold. I remember wishing I didn’t have to still wear a coat. It was always so cold.
Nancy: Don’t they have those pretty pastel-colored coats for little girls?
Barbara: Yes, I was the only girl in the family. So I always had a real pretty coat and a hat and gloves and the whole shebang.
Nancy: Matching of course.
Barbara: Yes. So in some ways it felt a lot more special, so to speak, because we put more emphasis on getting ready for it. But I think, sad to say, Easter has become so, so overlooked. I think even within the Christian community we don’t put near enough focus on it. I mean, it’s the pinnacle of Christ’s life. It’s the pinnacle of our faith. Without Resurrection Sunday, Christmas would be meaningless. All of it would be meaningless.
I think one of my goals and one of my dreams and truthfully one of my great prayers is that God would grant us the privilege of changing the way we celebrate Easter in not just our country but in the western world because it has become so trivial. The only things that we do are have Easter egg hunts and chocolate bunnies, and that’s about all it is.
People may go to church that Sunday, and they may not have been the rest of the year. But they go to church, they may go out to dinner or to lunch afterwards, and then they’re done. There’s nothing in the afternoon. There’s no grand celebration.
I feel strongly that the resurrection needs to be a grand, glorious, wonderful celebration not with parties, not with gifts like we do at Christmas and all of that. But somehow we have to capture the importance of the resurrection in our own lives and in our families and in our culture as believers instead of just sailing right on by it with a little bit different service on Easter Sunday morning, but that’s all.
Nancy: Did you do anything special with your children when you were raising them?
Barbara: No. I really didn’t, and it’s not because I didn’t want to. I really wanted to make Easter and Resurrection Sunday more meaningful. But I couldn’t find anything that helped me do that. I didn’t really know what to do myself other than try to help them understand the truth of the gospel story and to try to talk to them about it more. But I couldn’t find anything, and I was too overwhelmed with kids to create anything in that season of my life. So now that I’m in the empty nest, I’m creating what I wished I had when I was parenting full time.
Nancy: And some great resources for moms, grandmoms, families, and even those who live alone and want to just focus on who Jesus is and why He came. Now, Easter, Resurrection Day, isn’t significant apart from the fact that three days earlier Jesus was crucified. He died for our sins. He was buried. He was raised again from the dead. This is the gospel. This is the good news. This is hearkening back to Christmas we talked about a few months ago. This is why He was born. This is why He came.
Barbara: That’s right.
Nancy: In the weeks leading up to Resurrection Sunday, some faith traditions have celebrated or observed a forty-day period leading up to Easter. It’s called different things, but some call it the Lenten season or Lent. I think for some of us who are in the evangelical world, that may carry some baggage with it. That concept of Lent goes back to a religion that’s dry or dead or not focused on the Resurrection but on dead religion. So some are a little bit afraid of that term.
Barbara: And I think confused, too. I think a lot of Christians today don’t understand what it means and why people have celebrated it. It may have been marked in people’s lives in a false way or in a legalistic way.
Nancy: Of doing works to please God.
Barbara: Yes, but that doesn’t mean that it’s irrelevant. I think, in fact, it is relevant. I think we can mark those days leading up to Easter which then will make the Holy Week itself and Resurrection Sunday that much more meaningful, that much more profound, if we take those six weeks of the Lenten season and prepare our hearts to worship and celebrate and adore Christ for what He did for us on the cross.
To me the Lenten season is a wonderful time as a family to teach your children about the long prophesied Christ who then came and gave His life and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. It’s a wonderful teaching opportunity. It’s a great time to mark those days and to anticipate what Easter is all about.
Nancy: I think that’s the meaning that has been helpful to me to attach to this season. A lot of times if you say “Lent” people say, “Oh, what are you giving up for Lent?”
Nancy: And that’s really all they associate with that season. It may be a time when in order to focus on Christ, you make a choice to fast from something in order that you can focus more on your relationship with Christ. But I like to think of the focus of this being how can we fix our eyes on Jesus, concentrate on Him.
I’m a Bible teacher. This is what I do for a living. I find in the course of ministry, my own heart can get so easily distracted, focused on just my daily tasks and life and what’s going on. It’s so great to have these seasons and these holy days in our rhythm, in our annual calendar, where we recalibrate, and we remind ourselves who we are and whose we are and who Jesus is and why He came.
That’s actually a concept. The celebration and marking of those holy days is something you find in the Old Testament as a really important part of the Jewish worship.
Barbara: Yes. God gave the Jewish people a season of celebrations that He wanted them to mark every year, year after year after year after year. I think it’s because He knows us. He knows how prone we are to wander. He knows how quickly we forget Him and who He is and what He has done. So He instituted these feasts, these celebrations in their annual calendar so that they could focus on Him and on what He was calling them to do, the kind of lives He was calling them to live.
We are no different today. We don’t celebrate the same feasts and the same holidays that the Jewish people did, but we have Christmas and we have Easter. And in America, we have Thanksgiving. We have opportunities to turn our eyes back to the King of the universe and to focus on Him.
Nancy: I’m thinking about the Old Testament Passover. That’s such an important foundational piece for our celebration of Holy Week and Easter. If you go back to the origin of Passover in Exodus 12 and 13, God says to His people, “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the LORD brought you out from this place” (13:3).
There’s a whole celebration, a whole observance of Passover that God spelled out the symbols and meal and days of observance. God says to His people, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. And here’s how you are to celebrate it.”
Then I love this part. This is a family occasion—not only the first Passover but every successive annual celebration. It says when you’re having this meal and you’re doing these symbols and you’re reminding yourselves what happened, when your children say to you, “What do you mean by this service? What’s this all about? You shall say it is a sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover for He passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians but spared our houses" (see 13:3–16). This becomes a teaching tool.
Barbara: It’s a powerful teaching tool. And what’s so wonderful about that story is that story is all about Christ. And yet, how many children know that the Passover is really about Jesus? In fact, we know that all of the Old Testament is about Jesus. It all points to Jesus. It all points to His coming at Christmas in the incarnation, and it points to His sacrifice on the cross.
That’s what I love about the Lenten season. It’s an opportunity to teach your children who He is and why Easter is important.
Nancy: And an opportunity to teach it in the context of the whole biblical story. Sometimes when we come to Holy Week or Easter, we just read the passages from the Gospels, wonderful as they are, and from the Epistles that relate to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Those are powerful, wonderful passages we need to know. But those all have a backdrop in the Old Testament context of the whole redemptive story that most adults don’t know. Most Christian adults aren’t aware of it, much less our children, and we need to know the whole of the story.
Barbara: That’s right.
Nancy: So in order to help with that, you’ve developed another resource for families called The Messiah Mystery. Tell us how you first got the idea for that.
Barbara: Well, I wanted to try to come up with an idea for something that families could do during the Lenten season, and so a young mom friend of mine and I wrote this. We call it a journal. It’s really a small book. We wrote this journal with six lessons that you can teach your family. So it’s only once a week during the six weeks leading up to Easter. It’s very doable.
I remember how busy it was when I was a mom of six kids. If you had asked me then, “What do you need?”
I would have said, “Give me something simple. Give me something easy.” Well, once a week is still a challenge, but it is still much more doable than something you do every day.
And so, this book, it’s called The Messiah Mystery, is a journal that you walk through as a family and it takes your family on a journey from Genesis all the way to Jesus talking about His resurrection in the gospels.
It gives you that context that you and I were just talking about just a minute ago. It gives a family the context that the Old Testament started talking about Jesus from the very beginning. The Passover was talking about Jesus. The story of Abraham and Isaac was talking about Jesus. Isaiah was talking about Jesus.
There were stories about Jesus sprinkled all throughout the Old Testament and when we see how all of those link together and how they lead us up to where Christ actually came, it makes the wonder of His story, it makes the wonder of the gospel story that much more amazing that God was orchestrating all of this, and so many didn’t see it, so many didn’t know it. But we can look at that during the Lenten season.
It prepares our hearts to celebrate Easter in a much fuller, a much more enlightened way than we would have previously. It gives us an opportunity to teach our children the truth of the Old Testament which they, many of them, probably don’t know—and a lot of us don’t know either.
Nancy: So take us back to Genesis, for example. What’s the story there, and how do we see that it foretells the coming (it’s a clue) to the coming of Messiah?
Barbara: Well, we’ve written this little book as a detective story. Each of the six lessons has Scriptures in it, and the answers are printed in little teensy font, and it comes with a magnifying glass. Kids love this part of the booklet. You have to get the magnifying glass and put it over the answer in the book in order to read it.
Nancy: These are clues.
Barbara: They are clues to uncovering the mystery of the Messiah, because the Jewish people didn’t know who the Messiah was going to be, and they didn’t know when He was going to come. So these are the clues that God gave them.
Back to your question about Genesis, God talks to Adam and Eve after they sinned and gives them an explanation for what will happen because of their sin. But He also gives them a promise. In the promise is the first hint that one day there will be a Redeemer. One day Someone will come who will put everything right again. And in that verse is the first hint of Jesus.
It doesn’t use His name, but if you’re a good detective and you read it, you can discover. So this story, this very first lesson that you can go over with your family during the Lenten season, takes you back to Genesis. You read all those verses together, and then read the questions together.
For instance, it says, “What is God talking about?” And the answer is printed in the book. “He will put hatred between Eve and Satan and between her children and his.”
The next question is, “Who is that talking about?” Then it talks about what’s the difference between different things. And then question five says, “This is God’s very first clue in Genesis 3:15. Can you guess what it is?” That’s where the kids get out the magnifying glass, and they put it over that page in the book, and they read. They discover what the answer is.
The kit comes with some little booklets where they can write down the answers that they discover. Over the course of the six weeks of Lent, as your family goes through this one lesson a week, the kids can begin to record all the clues they found in the Old Testament that talk about the coming Christ.
Kids are competitive. I mean, human beings are competitive but especially kids. And your kids might even get into a bit of a competitive battle over who can find the most clues, and that’s not a bad thing. Let them have a little competition to see who can find the most clues and write them in their book. Whatever motivates them to get into the Scripture. If they can think it’s fun, they’re going to be more eager to learn about the Bible and about what God tells us about His prophesied coming Son.
And so The Messiah Mystery helps your family discover how all of the Old Testament was telling about Jesus. Then it foreshadows His death and His burial and His resurrection which prepares our hearts for Easter.
Nancy: You’ve set this up in a way that, if you have younger children, there are certain portions that are more suitable for them.
Barbara: Yes. So in this journal book, as I’ve done in several other products that I’ve created, there is a bolded font section that’s much shorter. So if your children are say six, seven and younger, just read the bolded sections, and you’ll be able to finish in much less time. It’s a much simpler approach.
But if you have upper elementary kids—kids who are ten and older—there are portions that you add to that. So you do the whole lesson. There are a lot more questions. There are a lot more clues for the older kids to find because they’ve got the capacity to dig deeper and stick with it longer.
Nancy: What a great way to get your children of every age into the Word of God. I know a lot of families want to be teaching their children God’s way, but they just don’t know how. And this is such a great resource to get your family into the Word and to get the Word into your family.
For a mom maybe whose husband isn’t so much into taking leadership in this area. Is this something that you think she ought to feel comfortable to suggest for the family to do?
Barbara: Oh, absolutely. We tested this a year ago with about thirty or forty families. One of my favorite stories is from a mom who has two kids. One’s probably in the ten to twelve range and one was probably about fourteen, fifteen. And she said, “My husband has never really led our family spiritually.”
And she said, “I got this, and I handed it to him, and said, 'Do you just think you can just read this to the kids? Would you just be willing to read this?'”
Then she said, “We sat down at the table. Both of my kids sat back in their chairs and put their heads back and rolled their eyes. My husband, bless his heart, didn’t let that diminish his willingness to plow ahead. He opened it up, and he began to read. Slowly the two kids kind of unthawed, and they got engaged.” She said it was really transformative for her family because they did it every week.
She said, “It made my husband look like the hero because he was finally doing what he always wanted to do but didn’t know how.” And she said, “All I did was get it and say ‘Would you be willing to read this to our family?’”
She said, “My kids acted like they weren’t interested, but I know they were listening. I know they were hearing every word. They were just at that stage of life where they were too cool to really let on that they were enjoying it. But I know that they heard it all.”
So, yes, I think it’s an easy way for a dad to lead his family spiritually because unless he doesn’t know how to read, all it is is opening the book and reading it. It’s not that complicated. That’s my goal because I remember as a mom, as a parent, and my husband, too . . . My husband was willing and eager, but we didn’t have anything. It’s an easy way for a mom to set her husband up to win, and it’s an easy way for a dad to lead his family spiritually by getting this and just reading it together once a week.
Nancy: And also something that a single mom can do with her kids, grandparents can do with grandkids.
Barbara: Yes. And it works great in Sunday schools, too. We’ve got a couple of churches who’ve used this during the Lenten season in their church with their Sunday school classes, with their kids, as their curriculum for the Lenten season.
Nancy: And there’s actually more to this set than what we’ve had time to talk about today. We’ll talk a little bit more of that tomorrow. But what I love, Barbara, is this is a way of getting our own hearts and those of our families focused on Christ and looking at Him through the lens of all of Scripture. It’s one great, amazing redemptive story. And for those in the Old Testament era, it was a mystery.
Barbara: It was a mystery.
Nancy: They didn’t know who Jesus was. They were looking forward to Him. They were anticipating the coming of this Messiah, and God gave them clues throughout the Old Testament. Of course, now we can look back. The Messiah has come. He was crucified, buried, and raised again from the dead all to save us from our sins. But how impoverished we are if we don’t understand that story in the context of the Old Testament which is where you spend a lot of time during this Lenten season exercise.
Now, you’ve called it a “little book.” But I’m holding it in my hand, and it’s not an ordinary book. This is a beautiful, fabric covered, fun looking, amazingly designed piece that will be unlike any other book you’ve got in your home. It comes with a magnifying glass. It comes with a poster that we’ll tell you about tomorrow.
We’re making this available (it’s a whole package a whole resource) to our listeners who will send to this ministry any gift of twenty dollars or greater. We’ll send this “Messiah Mystery Package.” You will want to get it now so that you can look at it, so you can be prepared as you enter into the Lenten season which begins just a few weeks from now, March 5. You can have it in your hands. You can be prepared.
There are activities involved. We’ll talk about some of those tomorrow. You can prepare for those. That’s why we’re letting you know about it in advance so you can start preparing to celebrate the Lenten season leading up to Resurrection Sunday with your family in a really meaningful way.
If you want to make a donation to the ministry of twenty dollars or more, give us a call at 1–800–569–5959. Or if you’d rather give online, you can do that at