Tag Archives: lent

Reflections Halfway through Lent

lent halfwayWe have just passed the halfway point thru Lent. I’ve enjoyed hearing the stories of the college students in their journeys so far. Many have given up social media, and to their surprise get significantly much more homework done. Today’s students have had access to Facebook their entire school careers, so Facebook “breaks” and homework go hand in hand. Of course without discipline, a five minute Facebook break turns into an hour or more. One gal fasting from social media found herself checking her email more, and I thought “welcome to the 90’s” as that’s all we had; Instant Messenger, Facebook, texting, MySpace weren’t invented yet.

A couple gals have given up makeup, and I couldn’t be more delighted for them to start knowing their beauty is already present, they don’t need makeup to be valuable or accepted. But it’s been a hard journey for them this first half of Lent.

I took a break from my Facebook fast around my birthday so I could communicate about my birthday party, and I quickly realized how much I still need to fast from it. It was one of the first things I looked at on my phone in the morning. I thankfully didn’t linger on it, but I would prefer to have the self-discipline to not to go to it except occasionally.

I also discovered I hate fasting from food. I did an 18 hour fast and it was rough. I did pray more as the hunger pains prompted me, but boy was I grumpy. I have one more full 24 hour fast I want to do, and since I’m endeavoring to do it on Good Friday, I’m hoping a better desire will be present. By fasting that day, I hope it will enable me to identify more with Jesus’ sufferings on that fateful Friday.

gfrlI’ve also been reading “Gospel for Real Life”, which surprisingly has coincided well with reading “Church History in Plain Language”. In the first four chapters of GfRL a couple themes have stood out so far: the importance of recognizing my sin, the significance of Jesus living and dying for me, and the thoroughness of God’s plan.

I unfortunately tend to forget that I am a sinner until I fail in a significant way. And since I tend to try to avoid failure at all costs, I don’t experience that very often. But before God I sin daily and I don’t treat my sin as seriously as I ought. Bridges writes “the seriousness of sin is not simply measured by its consequences, but by the authority of the One who gives the command.” As I examine the sinfulness in my heart, I discover self-centeredness, selfish ambition, resentment, bitterness, impatience, a critical or unforgiving spirit, irritability, a love of material things, or an indifference to the eternal or temporal welfare of those around me. And those are just the negative traits. There are also the positive ones that I fail to live up to as God commands, like loving God with my whole mind, heart, and soul and loving my neighbor as myself. Loving God above all other desires, always rejoicing to meditate on God’s Word day and night (Ps 119:97), always delighting to do His Will (Ps 40:8), doing everything for His glory – eating, drinking, working, playing, driving, reading, speaking (1 Corin 10:31), never worrying but always trusting God’s plan and good heart towards me (Rom 8:28, Phil 4:6), and the list could keep going.

So why spend all that time considering how sinful we are, we’re only human, right?! Yes, we are human, and God is a Holy God. So holy in fact, He can’t be around sin. And until we see our deep need, we can’t even begin to appreciate the good news of the gospel. As Bridges states “Most people, even people who have already become believers, have never given much thought to how desperate our condition is outside of Christ. Few people ever think about the dreadful implications of being under the wrath of God. And most of all, none of us even begins to realize how truly sinful we are…. Only those who understand to some degree the enormity of their spiritual debt can begin to appreciate what Christ did for them at the cross.”

“Only those who understand to some degree the enormity of their spiritual debt can begin to appreciate what Christ did for them at the cross.”

I’ll come back to the Cross in a bit. A lot of attention is given to Christ dying on the Cross for our sins, and while this is incredibly important and I still don’t fully grasp the amazingness of it, there is also the truth that Christ LIVED for me. And it wasn’t until reading Church History that I understood the implications a bit more.

Christ lived a perfect life. He committed no sin. He perfectly loved and obeyed God, He perfectly loved people, He was never impatient, or critical or unforgiving. And this matters so greatly because Christ is our representative before God. As believers, what Christ did, God sees that we did. All that Jesus did, we did, because of our union with Him! Wow! The perfect life I was unable to live, Christ lived for me. I understood this to some degree concerning His death (that He died for me and in my place), but I hadn’t really considered before that it also meant His life.

The significance of this hit home even further for me while reading Church History. In the first half of the 3rd Century, the Christian Church enjoyed a rather peaceful time of no persecution, and the church grew. But then Emperor Decius came into power and he thought Christians were enemies of the empire. He commanded all citizens of the empire to sacrifice to the Roman gods and those who didn’t obey faced death. To save their lives, many Christians complied; others were martyred for their faith. A few more were tortured but didn’t renounce their faith and were called “confessors.”

After Decius’ death in battle only a couple years later, the persecution ended and the Christian Church struggled with readmitting people to the church. In some places as many as ¾’s of the church has deserted during the persecution. Two terrible concepts entered the Church. One was a system of penance for the repenting believers, and the other was elevating the confessors and martyrs to sainthood. They believed that these extraordinary Saints could “cover with their merits the demerits of the lapsed.”

When Jordan and I were discussing Church History this last week, she got an earful of my frustration as I was fired up! Both these concepts deny what Christ offered in His life and death. At the time the Church leaders believed that Christ died for all your sins up to the time you converted and were baptized, but not after. How important it is to realize that Christ died for ALL our sins – past, present and future! We don’t have to pay any penance whatsoever, because Christ paid the full penalty on the Cross. I understand that it’s an offer that sounds too good to be true, and so we have a hard time accepting it. But it is true! Gloriously true!

We don’t have to pay any penance whatsoever, because Christ paid the full penalty on the Cross.

As for the Saints, argh! No! The concept is correct, but with the wrong Person. The merits of the Saints don’t get transferred to the lapsed Christian. CHRIST’s merits get transferred to us. This offer also really seems too good to be true. What Christ did, God sees that I did. Christ lived His perfect life in our place and our behalf. It’s an amazing offer to those who choose to believe and follow Christ. To look to penance or to look to the Saints is to say that what Christ did in His life and death was not enough. But it IS enough!

This brings me to the last point of the thoroughness of God’s plan. We are sinners in desperate need of mercy. God is a God of justice and His justice also needed to be fully satisfied. If God extended mercy at the expense of His justice, it would take away from His holy and perfect justice. “Only God’s infinite wisdom and superabundant love could devise such a plan that both satisfies His justice and meets our desperate need for mercy.” It makes me think of some of shows on Netflix we watch, like White Collar or Leverage. The endings of each episode are so satisfying because they always come up with the perfect plan to catch the bad guy and help the good guy. And if I allow myself to be swept up in the story (and forget there are writers orchestrating the script), I can be amazed at “how did they do that?” There is a true story going on in our lives, so much more satisfying than an episode on Netflix, where God orchestrated the perfect plan to satisfy His holy justice and our need for mercy. It was the Cross!

A lot of people falsely think that God can just forgive our sins because He is a loving God. This is not the case. The Cross is why God can forgive our sins. God hates sin and only His wrath is sufficient enough to deal with sin. He is Holy, he cannot be around any degree of sin. “The Cross, then, is an expression of God’s wrath toward sin as well as His love to us. It expresses His holiness in His determination to punish sin, even at the cost of His Son. And it expresses His love in sending His Son to bear the punishment we so justly deserved. God’s holiness demanded [the Cross] as punishment for our sins, and God’s love provided it to save us from our sins.” The perfect plan! And oh am I grateful!

God’s holiness demanded the Cross as punishment for our sins, and God’s love provided it to save us from our sins.

It’s easy to gloss over the significance of this, and if you find yourself in that place, as I often do, it helps to start by recognizing our sin. “For it is only against the dark backdrop of our sinfulness that we can see the glory of the Cross shining forth in all its brilliance and splendor.” As Bridges also states “Our need is not to be measured by our own sense of need, but by what God had to do to meet that need. Our situation was so desperate that only the death of His own Son on a cruel and shameful cross was sufficient to resolve the problem.”

Thanks for reading through all my thoughts. I hope I conveyed at least a little how truly significant the Cross is. Til next time!

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Lent – what’s the purpose?

lentLent is coming up in a week. Some of you may be very familiar with it, others of you may have only heard of this Church tradition. If you aren’t familiar with it, Lent is the period of time set aside to focus on simplifying your life, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God during the 40 days before Easter, starting with Ash Wednesday and lasting up until Easter. It’s actually 46 days, but the 6 Sundays in Lent are excluded because each are considered a mini-Easter. One article I read pointed out that it’s about 1/10 (tithe) of a year.

Next Tuesday, Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday” is the day before Lent starts. Since Lent always starts on a Wednesday, the day before is always a Tuesday. It’s called “Fat” or “Great” because it’s associated with great food and parties. Traditionally, people didn’t want to be tempted by sweets, meat and other distractions in the house during Lent so they cleaned out their cabinets. They used up all the sugar and yeast in sweet breads before the Lent season started, and fixed meals with all the meat available. It was a great feast!  Course now Mardi Gras has evolved into a pretty wild party with little to do with actually preparing for the Lenten season.

I grew up Lutheran and thought everybody knew about Lent. In my high school most everyone went to either the Lutheran, Catholic or Methodist church and we all did Lent, or at least talked about it. We would give up chocolate or soda or TV. It didn’t really mean much to me, it was just a tradition. I was really surprised when I got to college and met Christians who had never really heard of Lent nor participated in it.

So why do Lent at all? There is no rule saying you have to, it’s not commanded in the Bible. It’s a church tradition; however, it is a beneficial one when used with the right motives and mindset. It’s a great time to fast, which, when Jesus talks about fasting, it’s always in the context of “when you fast” just like when He says “when you pray.” Plus, it’s a chance to do it in community. It’s easier, and more fun, to fast when you know your friends are doing it too. It’s a good time to prepare our hearts for Easter. Jesus sacrificed His life for us. By sacrificing food, a desire, a need, or our time, we can appreciate a bit more His sacrifice for us. Ultimately, the purpose of participating in Lent is to Glorify God by knowing and loving Him.

fasting-1God created us to hunger for Him, and we will fill that hunger, even as Christians, with so many things to numb that hunger. Fasting awakens that hunger for God as we deny ourselves the numbing agent of food, media, noise, relationships, etc… and we can begin to let God fill that hunger instead.

A word of caution: Fasting needs to have a purpose. Otherwise the hunger pains will only make you calculate the time until you can eat again. We need to have our purpose in mind while fasting, so when I get hungry, I say to myself: I’m hungry because I’m fasting today. And I’m fasting today because _____________________. Without a spiritual purpose, a fast from food only becomes a diet, and a fast from media only becomes a time management saver. It doesn’t Glorify God nor help us know and love Him more.fast-2

For instance, if I know Brandy is going through a rough time and I want to pray for her more throughout the day, I could choose to fast and pray for her. Then every time my stomach growls or my head aches, my hunger reminds me that I’m fasting, which in turn reminds me that I’m fasting for the purpose of praying for Brandy, and then I pray. So all day, whether I’m driving, walking, working, I’m reminded by my hunger to pray, and then I’m praying far more often, which is why I fasted in the first place.

Other purposes of fasting besides praying for someone, are to seek God’s guidance, to put my trust and hope in Him instead of some other thing, to overcome temptation, to minister to the needs of others with the time and money I would normally use to eat, or to express love and worship to God – fasting demonstrates that seeking God is more important than food, or Facebook, or spending time with people, or whatever it is I am fasting from. Jesus is more important and more satisfying than food, media, people, etc…, but we won’t know it until we fast and let Him fill us with Himself instead.fast3

Food is a great choice for fasting because God made us creatures who survive by eating. It’s a basic need. He made the world work in such a way that it provides food for us to eat. Those who eat too much, or even too little are looking for satisfaction in something other than God.

A fast doesn’t have to be just food. Other great things to fast from can be found in the things that clutter your calendar and life.

Two weeks ago I took a couple days to spend (mostly) alone with God. I cancelled all meetings, turned off my phone and computer, and rested. God did a lot in my heart in those two days of fasting from my phone. I realized I was so exhausted because I was spending too much time reading the news or on Facebook. There’s a whole side story related to this, but suffice it to say, I was surprised to learn that reading and processing the news takes energy, a lot of energy, and I need to limit the amount of news I take in because I don’t want my energy going there.

Another non-food fast that I did was my first meaningful Lent fast after I joined Campus Ventures. I fasted from music that year. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard, but the first few days were torturous. The first day was fine, but the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc… were rough. I was agitated and restless. I didn’t even realize until then that I was looking to music and noise to be my source of peace and security. When it got ripped away, I had to start looking for it in God. During those 40 days I found myself automatically reaching for the radio station in the car, or wanting to turn on the stereo or TV as soon as I walked in the door to my apartment. It was habit. But somewhere in the middle of Lent, I began to appreciate the quietness and then eventually to love it. Before, I always had music playing. Music had a big role in my coming to know Jesus as my Savior as well as growing in my faith. But I was relying on it instead of Him. Once the 40 day Lent fast was over, I was reluctant to turn noise back on. It became by choice to listen to music or watch TV rather than just a habit. And my love for quietness has stuck. I had never loved it before, but I am comfortable with it now as I find it restful and restoring.

Lent is also a time of simplifying your life in terms of what you eat, wear and do. Some people will simplify their diets. It used to be a big thing to not eat meat during Lent, except fish on Fridays. Simplifying a diet can free up time in preparing meals to allow time to spend with Jesus. And by removing sweets, caffeine or other items from your diet and just doing a simple diet to meet your basic nutritional needs, you can learn to crave God instead. For instance, if you decide to simplify your diet to basic needs, then when you crave the extra portion of food or a tastier treat, you can remember that you are fasting, and fasting for a purpose to seek God during Lent. Another option is simplifying your clothing choices for the 40 days. Or your activities. Maybe saying no to one thing every day, or pulling back from hanging out with people if you’re an extrovert. We can look to our clothing choices or people to fill the hunger we have for God just as much as we can food.

 

Other ideas for Lent:

  • Try an electronic fast. Give up Netflix, Facebook, texting, email, Snapchat, and all things electronic for one day every week. (Or everyday of Lent!). Use that time to spend with God reading the bible, praying, memorizing a verse, or spend quality time with family or roommates, or writing an encouraging note to someone on paper!
  • Try skipping one meal each week and use that time to volunteer for an hour or more each week or look for ways you can serve roommates, friends, or even strangers.

 

One thing I will be doing, and I invite you to do with me, is to focus on the Cross. A few years ago I read the Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges and it was a powerful book about all that the Cross represents and the incredible riches found in being a Christian. Bridges shared how the Cross represents so many opposing ideas all beautifully tied into one. Take for instance, God’s Holiness and God’s Love. God’s holiness demanded the Cross as punishment for our sins and God’s Love provided the Cross to save us from our sins. I’ve wanted to re-read this book before an Easter for some time now, so Jordan and I are going to read it over Lent if you’d like to join us. You can get the book off of Amazon Prime for only $11 or used from Amazon for $6. If you don’t have time to read one more book, maybe fast from a meal once a week to use that time to read, or if you have a Spring Break coming up, read it over Break to draw your heart back to Him and the season of Lent. I’m also hoping to write a blog entry about each chapter to make myself think through it more, so you could follow my thoughts on future blogs. Maybe Jordan will write a blog entry too. Or if you read a chapter and it speaks to you, I’d love for you to write an entry for my blog!

Whether you read the book or not, I do invite you to mediate on the Cross over Lent.

Before you finish reading this blog and move on to your next thing, would you take a few moments to talk to God and see if He wants you to fast from anything over Lent? Maybe one of the ideas I shared spurred something in your mind. Ask Him if there is something He wants you to fast from for all of Lent, for part of Lent, or for one day each week of Lent. If He brings something to mind, have the courage to follow through! God loves you and if He’s asking you to fast from it, no matter how hard it may seem, trust Him that He really knows what is best for your heart and your relationship with Him. Fasting is hard, especially if it’s for a long haul, like all 40 days of Lent. I encourage you to share with someone to hold you accountable and to encourage you. And keep before you the purpose of why you are fasting. Without the purpose of knowing and loving God, this will just become another empty tradition.