The Season of Lent is coming – some encouragement

Lent2014It is not about “giving up” as much as “giving in”

The Season of Lent "What did you give up for Lent?"

I grew up in a neighborhood in Michigan that had two predominant types of Christian experiences and “church” allegiances – Roman Catholic and Lutheran. It was not surprising that we regularly engaged in conversation about “churchy” things…especially when Fridays rolled around (and many of my Catholic friends ate fish…by the way, I didn’t) or when Vacation Bible School, Roller Skating events and Softball leagues at our congregation occurred because everyone in the neighborhood got involved in those activities despite their religious “orientation.” When it came to be late winter and early spring, inevitably somebody talked about the Lenten Season. The season of Lent was talked about, commemorated, and was something that had a significant place in the life of the entire neighborhood. There was a problem though…although I was part of that tradition, I had no clue about it. The Pastor wore purple stoles and there were purple banners hung around the church building…many of my Catholic pals talked about what they were having to “give up” during the season (usually things they didn’t want to give up)…and then, before I knew it, it was Good Friday (something I did “get” even as a kid) and the awesome day of Easter (something of which I still have vivid and wonderful memories). Even so, why we did what we did during Lent and what it was actually all about didn’t really become real to me until years later. Now, that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise especially because Christians often throw words and phrases around that we either misunderstand or assume everyone knows. So, this is what I did…when I got a bit older, I took it upon myself to do a bit of research about the season of Lent…permit me to share a bit of what I learned. 

Lent is one of the oldest seasons or times of observation/commemoration on the calendar that has guided Christ-followers through the life of faith and the ministry of Jesus for centuries. Like all days and holidays that are considered “holy” (i.e. set apart, different), there have been changes over the centuries on how it is observed, but its purpose has always stayed essentially the same: Lent is a season of self-examination and penitence (repentance, contrition, reflection on our essential brokenness) demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter. A significant leader in the early Jesus movement, Irenaus of Lyons (c.130-c.200), wrote of such a season…but in his time, Lent only lasted two or three days, not the 40 days that we observe today. In 325 AD, the Council of Nicea (yep, the SAME group of people that wrote the Nicene Creed) discussed a 40-day Lenten season of fasting and self-examination that should be observed by Christ-followers. It's not perfectly clear on whether its original intent was JUST for new Christians to prepare for Baptism (which usually occurred on Easter day) or if it was supposed to be a season held dear by the entire Church. Even so, since that time, Lent has become an annual ritual, a healing and powerful time observed by believers throughout the centuries as a time dedicated to self-denial, sacrifice, spiritual formation, spiritual discipline and prayer. In many traditions, fasting plays a huge role. In history, people were regularly encouraged to fast daily (eating only one meal a day). In other traditions, prayer and confession were the primary focus on the 40-day Lenten journey. Though Lent is still devoutly observed in some mainline Protestant denominations (most notably Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, etc.), others hardly mention it at all. However, it is interesting to that there seems to be a rise in the significance of and enthusiasm for the Lenten season. Frankly, there cannot be a better emphasis than for all of us to focus on our relationship with Jesus. Lent is a time to get in touch with that part of us that is broken and needs healing. It is a season to be able to openly acknowledge our deep desire for transformation and Christlikeness. It is a time that is best summarized in some of Jesus’ actual words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) where He says that we are “blessed” when we are poor in spirit, meek and when we mourn. That’s really what Lent is about. Take Lent seriously this year…continue your One Year Bible reading…make a worship experience or two during the season (starting with Ash Wednesday worship)…read a Lenten devotional book or look for something that can encourage you in your walk with Jesus (or see more ideas below). That’s my encouragement…and tell you the truth, that’s exactly what I’m doing! As you read the following Lenten prayer, make it a part of your inner desire to be more like Jesus.

Lighter of lights – illumine us 

Fire of fires – thaw us 

Power of powers – strengthen us

Lover of lovers – warm us 

Teller of tales – encourage us 

Destroyer of darkness – save us 

Touchstone of truth – examine us 

Summoner of stars – amaze us 

Wellspring of wisdom – weather us 

Water of life – refresh us 

Dancer of days – delight in us

Breath of the universe – bless us

I encourage you this year to join the Lenten commemoration. In other words, why not set aside the next 40 days to do that which brings you daily into the knowledge of your own brokenness, yearning for healing, desire for transformation, and humility/dependence upon Jesus.  As a part of being in this order, you might want to: Read the Psalms during the next forty days.  Read 4 Psalms a day and you’ll have time to spare! Keep a journal that gets specific in the areas of confession and your need for forgiveness. Not that you want to hammer yourself…but picking up on the A.C.T.S. method, Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication will keep your heart and mind focused in your prayer time. Fast at least one day per week up until Easter. Daily take 10 to 15 minutes simply to reflect on the areas of your life that need transformation.  In other words, what will make you a more faithful Christ-follower?  What are those areas in your life that “get in the way” of you being who Jesus wants you to be? Continue or start the habit of reading the One Year Bible – yes, you can start now.  No problem! Last but not least, take some time each week to confess to another person.  That is powerful!  James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed”.  Take a risk!

 

 

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Jesus, the One we Follow and Serve

Jesus – The One we Follow and Serve

A couple of weeks ago, I was "assailed" by this devotion. It actually took my breath
away when I read it because of its simplicity and profundity. Friends, we make our
relationship with God so complex. We attempt to organize, strategize, "get busy"
for God…we plan, write purpose statements, form ministry teams and small groups.
We get together for worship experiences and bible studies. We DO all sorts of
things supposedly FOR Jesus when Jesus all along needs to be the sole target of
our affection, trust and day-to-day living. Jesus defined a Kingdom of God lifestyle
for his followers very simply – love God, love others, live for Jesus, make disciples.
In some way I wish I could "take back" all the times I encouraged people to "join the
church" thinking that religious activity would be the key to their understanding and
lifestyle in Jesus when Jesus is all we need. NOW, don't take this wrong…there is
much to be said about the importance of spiritual community, relationships in the
Body of Christ and the vital nature of the encouragement that we receive as we are
faithful to God's call to walk this journey with others. But MAKE NO MISTAKE
ABOUT IT our lives, lifestyle, mission, calling and passion needs to be focused on
who and what Jesus defined it to be. My encouragement today is for you to read
the following slowly. Let the Spirit of God wash over you with a growing passion
for Jesus. Trust me, as you follow Jesus…keep your eyes on Jesus…have Jesus be
the focal point of your love, life and the affections of your heart, then we will see
together the mission of Jesus accomplished in our midst. I like that this devotional
was originally posted in the "Simple Church" Journal…actually, that's really what
"Church" should be – simple – simply Jesus!

Jesus
Jesus
Jesus
Make disciples who are followers of … Jesus.
Not followers of doctrines, opinions, or church visions.
Not reciters of creeds or religious points of view.
But followers of the One.
Followers who follow because they know Him. They have tasted, touched, and
encountered Him and now they want to continue to develop that closeness,
intimacy, and relationship with Him. They know no greater joy.
They are not turned into members of denominations, attenders of services, or
clones of the latest way to do Christianity or church.
They remain His and they pursue Him and they follow Him and obey Him out of a
loyalty and passion that comes from deeply knowing Him.
They learn His voice because they love Him.
They lay down their own, personal agenda because they value Him.
They take up His vision to see the restoration of His Kingdom come to all people
because they experience His everyday encounters that restore and free their own
soul and they are driven to see this love transform others.
They know Him, they have found life, and they continue to find life through Him.
And because they know Him, they love Him.
And because they love Him, they follow Him…
Jesus