Posts Tagged ‘Lent

03
Mar
14

why Lent?

Growing up in a Baptist church, I don’t even think Lent was on the radar, at least not on my radar. Christmas and Easter were what we celebrated or at least what I remember anyway. We’d come to church on Easter wearing pastels and singing songs about Jesus being risen from the dead. But Lent? I didn’t even know what Lent meant.

I only started hearing about Lent a dozen or so years ago. We attended a church where people talked about what they were giving up for Lent. At first, I didn’t know what in the world they were talking about. After I learned a little more, Lent became a fun and interesting topic for discussion about what to give up. There was the usual giving up of broccoli or Brussel sprouts or something that you didn’t like or wouldn’t eat anyway. But some more serious Lent challenges, for some of us, were to give up chocolate or sugar or coffee. One year, I made my kids give up something. I used Lent as a bad parenting technique; it didn’t work out.  (Lent in My Belly Button)

I think rituals are important, but for a long time, I failed to realize what the real purpose of Lent was. It became about some kind of willpower, rather than any kind of Jesus significance.

But why give up anything for Lent? What actually is the significance? Why deprive myself for one minute when I don’t really have to? For me, it has become about the waiting, the anticipation of Jesus. I’ve noticed when I have fasted in the past, it’s at that moment when I don’t think I can stand it for one minute longer that that’s the moment when Jesus steps in, and He becomes my strength. All my self-reliance and thinking I have it figured out go out the window. And I lean in hard because I feel like my stomach will eat itself, and it’s at this point that I realize I have nothing in myself. I am physically and spiritually weak, and I really need Jesus. So that’s why I participate in Lent. It makes me realize my utter frailty, my utter lack of patience and self-control, and it makes me realize my need, my absolute dependence on God for food, for life, for everything.

About mid-February I start to think about Lent; I start thinking about what my give-up will be, not just to do something because that’s what you do. But how will I fast in anticipation of Jesus? What will help me see Him clearly and reveal my need for Him the most?

Last year, I cannot even remember what I gave up or even if I did in fact give up anything, but a friend challenged Jeff and me  to read the entire Bible during Lent. So that’s what I did. At first it was a challenge, but then it became something much, much more than that. Not to be overly dramatic, but it was life-changing for me. I felt like I ate His Word, and it became life and breath.  I absolutely could not wait to dig in and read each day, and I would go to bed in anticipation of what I would read and “see” the next day. I couldn’t wait to see how the Holy Spirit revealed Himself and how often He surprised me with His truth and love and hope in crazy kind of places (like Leviticus, and I kind of fell in love with Isaiah).

When I read in Psalm 19 how God’s Word renews our lives, makes the inexperienced wise, makes our hearts glad, makes our eyes light up, is more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey, I can say a resounding, “Yes, Yes, YES!” When I read the Bible like I would any other novel, I feel like I absorb it into the interior parts of my soul, my head, my heart. I feel it in my bones, and  it becomes a part of me.

I read somewhere (the internet) that Lent is 40 days long and used for prayer and fasting in the time before Easter, but the period between Ash Wednesday, which happens to be on Jeff’s birthday this year (March 5), and Easter (April 20) is 46 days long. So I’m excited to once again have the opportunity to read the Bible from Ash Wednesday to Easter.  This sounds daunting and overwhelming, and it is at times. But I believe the Holy Spirit teaches us all things, and I’m excited to not just know more but see Him and hear from Him in ways that I haven’t yet heard. So I’m almost a little giddy and ready to start today, but I wait. The waiting, the anticipation is good.

I’m not necessarily giving up anything for Lent, except maybe reading other books and giving up watching more DVDs than I really need to. But no matter what I do or don’t do for Lent or any other time, the focus must be Christ. (Heb. 12)

Because of the year that I tried to make my kids give up stuff, I decided that every one should choose their own Lent give-up. It just really works better that way. The stirrings of my heart or whatever you want to call them don’t seem to apply to others the same way they do to me, and I’ve come to realize that the Holy Spirit’s not usually talking to other people in the same way that He’s talking to me. And so I don’t get caught up with pushing my own stuff on people. Not anymore. I trust God to lead me, as well as the people around me, in the places that He wants each of us to go. And that makes it so much more exciting to hear all the different ways that God wakes each one of us up to Him. 🙂

14
Mar
13

Loving Our Lent Challenge

For Lent this year, Jeff and I were challenged to read through the entire Bible. Since October, I had been devouring parts of the New Testament. But read through the whole Bible in 46 days? Is that even possible? Jeff went online to find a Bible reading plan, but the shortest plan the internet has is for 90 days. Even the internet people don’t think it’s possible.

But we took the challenge. Jeff figured out how many pages he needed to read each day to complete his reading and was on his way. I didn’t plan it out quite as much as Jeff, and I also started by reading with the New Testament, so that I wouldn’t get stuck around Numbers and call it quits. This has been a fantastic journey, so far.  God has opened my eyes up to Him in His Word like never before.

In reading the Bible this way, like I would a novel, I feel like I’m gobbling His words and wanting more. Most days, I cannot seem to get enough. In Psalm 81, it says, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” I feel like a baby bird with her beak open wide, waiting for her daddy to drop in more. And there’s always more. More than I can possibly get in a lifetime.

But in taking on this challenge, there have been things that I’ve had to get rid of to make a space for reading the Bible in this way; I realized I had to have time to stop and soak up God’s Words. And I found that the things that I gave up don’t really amount to all that much anyway.

But His Word, I cannot do without it, and I now find myself running to it when there’s trouble and thinking about it even when there’s not. God and His Words have become life to me, words to trust in, words to obey. When Satan told Jesus to turn the stones into bread, Jesus answered, “It is written: Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

In the movie, The Book of Eli, the main character had the only Bible left on Earth. The bad guy, of course, wanted the Bible because of its power and went to extremes to try to get it. For thirty years, Eli spent his days walking West and his nights devouring the Word of God with his fingers. By the end of the movie, the Bible had been destroyed. But blind Eli recited the Bible in its entirety as someone else put those words on paper. The enormity of this still strikes me…the love of those words…God’s Words.

Your words were found, and I ate them.Your words became a delight to me and the joy of my heart… (Jeremiah 15)

02
Mar
13

Knock, Knock! Who’s There?

When Moses received the Ten Commandments, the people of Israel were afraid to hear from God directly. They saw the smoking mountain, the thunder and lightning and stood far back even though Moses told them not to be afraid. God wanted to speak to them, but they were too afraid to hear what God had to say to them. “The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.” (Exodus 20)

In Deuteronomy 5, God said to Moses, ‘I have heard the words that these people have spoken to you.

Everything they have said is right. If only they had such a heart to fear Me and keep all My commands…’

Jesus says the same thing about the Pharisees in Matthew 15.

These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

Something’s up with some of us who call ourselves believers in our culture. Because we don’t really seem to be following the Christ I see in the Bible. And I don’t really think Jesus is talking about following Him by going to church every time the doors are open or even giving money or bringing someone to church every once in a while. These are small, insignificant things that don’t amount to much according to Jesus’ standards.

The Pharisees were doing a whole lot more than this in the New Testament, and Jesus and John called them a bunch of snakes. He knew their hearts; He knew their lives. In Matthew 7, the ones that Jesus says He doesn’t know and are cast out are the ones who prophesied and drove out demons and did  miracles in His name. And Jesus responds to them  ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me…’ I think His ideas for following Him are much, much higher, starting with listening to Him and then obeying.

In our American church culture, lives don’t seem to be changed by the power of God or His Word. Jesus cannot be treated as an add-on, something used to make lives easier, more comfortable, more enjoyable.  He is not here to fix us but to change us into a new creation, which is painful, and I don’t think people really want that Jesus. Following Him requires time and commitment and love, and we don’t seem to be in abundance of any of those things. The Israelites were afraid, but in our culture we’re not afraid; we’re just too busy, distracted, disobedient, self-centered and indifferent to follow Him. He talks about people like us in Mark 4. We’re the people represented by the seed sown among the thorny soil.

...these are the ones who hear the word, but the worries of this age, the seduction of wealth, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

And the unfruitful ones? What happens to them at the end of the age? They’re thrown out and destroyed. Even the ones who did all kinds of things in His name didn’t make the cut. Because Jesus said that you will know those who are His by their fruit.

So what do we do with this? How do we know if we are His and are producing good fruit, fruit that Jesus will recognize? In I John, disciples of Jesus are the ones who love Him, and you see the love they have for Him because they are keeping His commands (not man’s laws or standards, but God’s commands). We begin by loving the people around us.

Some say all the right words and do all the right things but  don’t really know Him, and He doesn’t know them. But there is hope; it’s His kindness that leads us to repentance. He’s given us Himself and His Word. And as John and Jesus both said, Repent (turn from sin by the power of the Holy Spirit) and believe; become a true follower of His by listening to Him and by following His commands.

Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil (repent), humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you. (believe)

Although the road is narrow, and there are not many who choose to take that road, it is the way of life and truth and real meaning. But His way is also the way of the cross and death: death to self, death to the ways of the world, death to comfortable, safe lives. Jesus says, If you lose your life for my sake, then you will find it. But if you try to hang on to your life, that’s when you lose everything. There’s no middle ground here, no straddling the fence.

You’re either in the process of working out your own salvation with fear and trembling, or you’re not. (Philippians 2:12)  We’re all busy following something, someone. And we intently listen to the people we’re following; we follow them on Twitter, on Facebook, on any other social media we can get our hands on. But are you a true believer and follower of Jesus, or have you deceived yourself and don’t know His power or His Word? Are you following Him by listening to His Spirit, by reading His Word? And not books that people have written about Him. Jesus told the Sadducees, “You are deceived, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God.”

He loves us so much, not only in how He sent Jesus and the Holy Spirit to us,  but also in how He reveals Himself to us moment by moment as we open our hearts, hands and lives to receive Him.  We don’t want to be like the children of Israel who when God wanted to speak to them, they refused to come and listen but rather had someone else (Moses) tell them what God had said. We are deceived when we think we need someone to interpret God and the Bible for us, whether it’s a pastor, a Bible study teacher or Christian author.

The anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you don’t need anyone to teach you. Instead, His anointing teaches you about all things and is true… (I John 2)

We have the Creator of the world who longs to speak with us through His Word and through the Holy Spirit. We don’t go to the Bible to find more facts or knowledge or because we’re guilted into it. We go to the Bible so that He would reveal Himself to us in all His beauty and majesty and righteousness. We go to the Bible in order to follow Him in obedience and love.

Pray that He would give us wisdom and discernment and that the eyes of our understanding would be enlightened. Pray for ears and hearts to listen to and long for what He is saying. Psalm 40:6 says, You open my ears to listen. And pray for the courage to follow Him in obedience to His Word and Spirit. He’s looking for followers. He’s looking for people who will listen and obey. It’s just that simple. The true worshipers worship Him in Spirit and in truth.

According to Hebrews 12, we no longer have to go to the smoking mountain like the children of Israel did. And God is no longer in the darkness. “Instead you have come to the city of the living God…to Jesus. Make sure that you do not reject the One who speaks…”

21
Mar
12

Lent In My Belly Button

Recently, Jeff and I decided that our kids would give up all games, computer and video for Lent. We decided this for our kids, spouting the usual spiritual application that giving up stuff for Lent is good because we’re looking forward to Easter with Christ’s death and resurrection, and it helps us remember to anticipate this when we give up something really hard.

But, really, I think we were trying to stop the craziness of gaming that had kind of taken over, and this was just a good excuse to do it without having to pull the “I’m the parent, get off the computer” card. Plus, it also made it “spiritual.”

Since Jeff and I don’t have a problem with computer games, we had to come up with stuff to deny ourselves as well. Jeff gave up looking at trivia on his phone and the computer.  He is a trivia fanatic, constantly in search of information and news flashes. He loves the Drudge Report and knows crazy minutia. So this was hard for him.

Personally, I would rather bury my head in the sand than put anything else in my brain. It rattles around enough without throwing completely worthless stuff in there, to boot. So, my Lent give-up was the weather channel. And I’m not talking about the cool weather channel on cable. I’m talking about the ghetto weather channel that you get when you don’t have cable. Regardless, I turn it on all the time to check to see what I should wear and when I can hang laundry outside and just out of curiosity because I have to know, and I can’t just stick my head out the door.

The Lent “rules” say that you can take Sundays off (or so I’m told; I’m sure this was some bit of information that Jeff told me).  So my kids, well, they go a little nuts with the games that day. And Jeff, I’m sure he’s cramming all the information in that he missed over the past week. I, too, take full advantage and try to memorize the temperatures for the upcoming week. But it doesn’t seem to stick, so Julia wrote down the weather for me for last week, including the temperature for each day, complete with drawings of rain clouds and suns. Somehow, I think we’ve all missed the point.

A couple weeks ago, Julia and I went on a girls’ trip, just her and me, for one night at a state park complete with chilly indoor pool. We had so much fun. But I needed to know if I was going to have to drive home in the rain, so I wanted to check the weather. But, it wasn’t Sunday. I told her I was just going to check the weather real quick when Julia said, “I won’t tell anyone.” But then added, “But God will know.”

Geez. I don’t think it was supposed to be like that. Some where along the way, it took on a pharasaical bent. If keeping Lent just means not breaking another rule, then really what’s the point?

So, we’ve kind of let it go. It seemed to have taken on a life of its own and in the process lost its real significance.

Yep, next year they can choose to do their own Lent or not do it. Lesson learned.




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