Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Practicing the Practice of Lent

Yesterday, I shared a little bit about Lent. About the history of it and a bit of the why behind it. By practicing Lent for the 40 days before Easter through prayer, giving or fasting, we humble ourselves, recognize and repent from our sin and acknowledge that we need Jesus. We look forward to Easter, the cross, and celebrate that Jesus paid it all. 

No matter how you decide to practice it, Lent is about giving something up. Time. Food. Finance. Our own way. Its not even so much about what you give up but that you give something up. Giving up something is not common practice in our culture. We want more and are encouraged to go after it -  More time. More money. Bigger houses - so giving up something, even for forty days, is counter cultural but there’s something that happens inside us when we willingly give something up, or at least modify what we’re doing, no matter how important it might be, in order to enter more intentionally into discipleship, prayer, self-examination and repentance. 

One of the authors I’ve been reading lately put it this way: “When we give up something in order to focus on Jesus and get low to see Him in our proper place, we gain a a pure and reverent awe of Him.” 

You see, we actually gain when we give up. We find mercy and grace and hope for the eternal. Jesus meets us there. And that’s where we find ourselves at Lent. The opportunity to give up something in order to gain a clearer view of the resurrection. 

Ash Wednesday is this coming Wednesday. Will you consider giving up something in this season? 

Here’s a few ideas (from the upper room)

Will you try an electronic fast? Give up TV or Facebook, email or texting for one day a week (or the whole of lent) and choose to read and pray instead? 

Start a rhythm of prayer. Each day pick someone or something to pray for. 

Go deeper into the Bible. Pick a book or chapter of scripture to study every day. 

Forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it. Maybe even yourself. 

Create a daily quiet time. Perhaps you will spend 10 minutes a day in silence and prayer. 

Cultivate a life of gratitude and encouragement. Write someone a note of thanks or encouragement every day of lent. And give it to them 

Participate in a lent photo a day practice and pray each day with your camera in hand. Capture those daily gifts of his presence that you might otherwise miss. 

Volunteer one hour of more each week with a local shelter, tutoring program, nursing home, etc. 

Pray for others you see as you walk or drive to and from classes or work. Turn the radio off while you drive and reclaim that time for Jesus. 

Give up soft drinks, fast food, tea or coffee. Fast from something. 

Now, there’s something interesting about practicing a fast during lent. Has anyone done the math? Feb 10- March 27 is actually 46 days….so how do we get 40 days for Lent? We’re actually going to take out the 6 Sundays. 

Historically, Christians wouldn’t fast on Sundays. In fact, they weren’t allowed to fast on Sundays. Because Sundays are a little Easter and always a time to FEAST! The Bridegroom is here! Christ is Risen! Even during Lent, Sundays remind us that the darkness will not last forever and Jesus is victorious! This is why Sunday celebrations are so important.

So Sundays become like a little tease, a taste of what is to come when Lent is over and we are free to enjoy whatever it is we are fasting from, when we get to celebrate. Sundays are like little Easters and those 6 Sundays during Lent serve to increase the anticipation for the one to come.

Giving up something and denying our own will for a period of time to replace it with the ways of Heaven is the point. So, if you take up a practice of say solitude or prayer or study for Lent, you may want to keep it up through the Sundays. It will be 46 days - great! - but if you fast, it is encouraged to break fast on Sundays and enjoy a bit of celebration.

Whatever way you choose to practice Lent, I am hopefully trusting that Jesus will meet you. 

A while back, I read a book on prayer by Micha Barton. This is how she describes her encounter with practicing Lent. 

“In the candlelit chapel, I ran my mind through what I could release those forty days of Lent. What did I depend on most in my small, book-filled student life? Coffee. I took the ashes and gave up coffee. 

Every morning during those six cold weeks of February and March, while the snow piled outside, I brushed the frozen white from the car windows so I could make it on time to teach my eight o’clock freshman writing seminar. And each morning as I entered my day without coffee, I thought of Easter. I longed for Easter the way I realized I should have always longed for Easter. Resurrection is true, and it is happening, I would whisper to myself, as if the cosmic salvation from Christ were occurring all over again, right then, in some realm and time outside my own. I was going to be rescued from my spiritual failure and loneliness. I was going to drink coffee. “ 

And so, 

“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, 
to the observance of a holy Lent, 
by self-examination and repentance; 
by prayer, fasting and self-denial; 
and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.  
And, to make a right beginning of repentance, 
and as a mark of our mortal nature, 
let us now kneel before the Lord, 
our maker and redeemer.” 

Book of Common Prayer 

*This post has been informed, in idea and sometime in wording, by the resources found in here. 

Monday, February 08, 2016

Lent: An Introduction

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. But what is the season of Lent? Why should we practice it? What does it mean? 

The church I grew up in wasn’t one that celebrated Lent. When I went to Bible college, Lent wasn’t really spoken of either outside of Church History class. It’s only as I’ve gone out on my own, reading, connecting with people from different communities of faith, and exploring different disciplines and church practices that Lent has really even been in my vocabulary. My first encounters with it, really, were people around me giving up stuff for lent. Usually food....coffee, chocolate, candy. For some it was things like Facebook or TV. Admittedly, my reaction was “its probably better for everyone around me if I don’t give up chocolate or coffee.” As is the case with most church practices, I’m learning though, that its rooted in much more meaning and depth.

We don’t do this as formally as some churches do but, traditionally, the church calendar is split into seasons. Advent. Christmas. Lent. Easter. These seasons, when followed, make up an interesting rhythm of reflection, anticipation and celebration.

We talked about advent as a season of waiting, longing even, as we anticipate the birth of Christ. Then Christmas comes and we celebrate. The past few years, I have practiced advent more intentionally and have been amazed at the difference that it has made through the season. It has helped me find focus through all the busy and stress of the season. I’ve found that it has helped me to find joy in the Christmas season and actually be able to celebrate, in spite of some of the stuff of life, when Christmas does arrive.

Lent is much the same. Lent is a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God and refocus towards our Easter celebration. Through these acts and the perspective they bring, we create a sense of longing for the resurrection. 

It's the forty days before Easter, beginning with Ash Wednesday. This year it's from February 10 (Ash Wednesday) to March 27 (Easter), 2016.

Ash Wednesday is the seventh Wednesday before Easter Sunday and the first day of the Season of Lent. Its name comes from the ancient practice of placing ashes on worshippers’ heads or foreheads as a sign of humility before God, a symbol of mourning and sorrow at the death that sin brings into the world.

In Jewish and Christian history, ashes are a sign of mortality and repentance. Mortality, because when we die, our bodies eventually decompose and we become dust/dirt/ash. Repentance, because long ago, when people felt remorse for something they did, they would put ashes on their head and wear "sackcloth" (scratchy clothing) to remind them that sin is uncomfortable and leads to a sort of death of the spirit. This was their way of confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness.

At an Ash Wednesday service, the people are invited to come forward to receive the ashes. The minister will make a small cross on your forehead by smudging the ashes. While the ashes remind us of our mortality and sin, the cross reminds us of Jesus' resurrection (life after death) and forgiveness. It's a powerful, non-verbal reminder that we can experience God's forgiveness and renewal as we return to Jesus.

This begins the 40 days of reflection, redirection and return to the ways of Jesus that make up Lent. Why 40? The number 40 is connected with many biblical events, but especially with the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness. At Jesus' baptism the sky split open, the Spirit of God, which looked like a dove, descended and landed on Jesus, and a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, My Beloved, with whom I am pleased." Afterward, as told in Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus was sent into the wilderness by the Spirit. Where he fasted and prayed for 40 days. During his time there he was tempted by Satan and found clarity and strength to resist temptation. Afterwards, he was ready to begin his ministry. Like Jesus, we may need to take some serious time to pray and listen for God.

As we approach the season of lent this year, are you searching for something more? Tired of running in circles, but not really living life with direction, purpose or passion? It's pretty easy to get caught up in the drama of classes, relationships, family, and work. Our lives are filled with distractions that take us away from living a life with Christ. Its so easy to fill our time with stuff, to get focused on what we want and on doing things our own way. 

Lent is a great time to “repent” -- to return to God and re-focus our lives to be more in line with Jesus. It’s a 40 day trial run in changing your lifestyle and letting God change your heart.

Lent has traditionally been marked by repentant prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (giving).

FASTING: Some people have been known to go without food for days. But that's not the only way to fast. You can fast by cutting out some of the things in your life that distract you from God. Some Christians use the whole 40 days to fast from coffee, tv, soft drinks, or meat as a way to purify their bodies and lives. You might skip one meal a day and use that time to pray instead. Or you can give up some activity like worry or reality tv to spend time outside enjoying God’s creation. What do you need to let go of or “fast” from in order to focus on God? What clutters your calendar and life? How can you simplify your life in terms of what you eat or do?

Giving: Some Christians take something on for Christ. You can collect food for the needy, volunteer once a week to tutor children, or work for reform and justice in your community. You can commit to help a different stranger, co-worker or friend every day of Lent. Serving others is one way we serve God.

Some people find ways to combine the two. For example, if you choose to give up your morning cup of coffee, it frees up a certain amount of money which could then be given to serve the Kingdom.

PRAYER: We can also use Lent as a time of intentional prayer. You can pray while you walk, create music or art as a prayer to God, or savor a time of quiet listening. All can be ways of becoming more in tune with what He is saying to you and who He is in the world.
Whatever you might choose, the journey through Lent is a way to places ourselves before God humbled, realizing that there’s nothing we can do to earn salvation. It is a way to confess our total inadequacy before God, to strip ourselves bare of all illusions of righteousness, to come before God just as we are. It helps us see our need of Jesus and prepare our hearts for the celebration of Easter, when Jesus paid it all. 

These "works" themselves aren't life changing but putting ourselves in a posture where we can meet Jesus is. By practicing Lent, as Christians have done throughout history, we can each take a small step in orienting our lifestyles more towards God in this season. 

*This post has been informed, in idea and sometime in wording, by the resources found in here. 

Lent Resources

I've recently done some reading and writing about the season and practice of Lent. I'm going to share what I've discovered but would be remiss not to give credit where credit is due. Many of the ideas and phrasing that I shared came from the following resources:

40 ideas for lent - Rachel Held Evans (from 2015) http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/40-ideas-for-lent-2015

Lent 101: The Upper Room http://www.upperroom.org/lent101

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Benjamin 10 Months

I don't know about snips and snails and puppy dog tails, but I do know that this little boy is made of pure energy. He is 10 months of equal parts fun and disaster and we love him for it.