Sunday, March 31, 2019

Halfway through Lent

This week marks the halfway point through this Lenten season, the 40 days (not counting Sundays which are always celebrations of the Resurrection) in which we focus on the life of Christ, culminating in the events of Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. 

In our Anglican tradition, we hold a Messianic Seder during Holy Week, usually on the Tuesday after Palm Sunday. We observe a non-kosher Passover with lessons on how Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with the disciples, including the Messianic significance of many of Christ's words and actions as read in the Gospels. 

This Lent I am reading Show Me the Way by Henri Nouwen, a collection of his readings designed for the 46 days of Lent (Sundays included), each of which begin with a Scripture verse, one or two short selections of Nouwen's writings that relate to that verse, and then concludes with a prayer written by Nouwen. I am filling up page after page in my commonplace book with quotations from this book; it's simply amazing!! It's also out-of-print, so I am using a library copy, but I will definitely invest in my own copy when I can; this one's definitely a keeper! 

From the "On Lent" page of this blog...

Lent, which comes from the Germanic word for “springtime,” can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking a spiritual inventory then cleaning out those things which hinder our relationship with Jesus Christ and our love and service with Him. Lent is really a time of revival in liturgical churches as God's people prepare to celebrate the Resurrection with depth and significance. Our Lenten disciplines are to ultimately transform our entire person: body, soul, and spirit and help us become more like Christ, not in our own power, but in His. Eastern Christians call this process theosis which Saint Athanasius describes as “becoming by grace what God is by nature.” 

For the first 300 years of the Church, the Resurrection was the only feast Christians celebrated. So spiritual preparation for this special Feast was and is very important, especially as the Resurrection Celebration was (and remains to this day in liturgical churches) a time to prepare Christians for baptism. During these first centuries of the Church, just a day or two of prayerful preparation for the Church as a whole was set aside; the full 40 days of Lent was not practiced until the early fourth century. The focus of Lent is spiritual renewal through the disciplines of fasting and prayer, study and giving. 

Fasting – Fasting can be not only from certain foods but also from activities that may distract us from our relationship with Christ, including television, computers, video games, etc. The time spent on these activities should be turned into time with God: in prayer, in His Word, in reading spiritual books, in fellowship, prayer, and study with other believers. Lent represents a time of spiritual training that can aid us, with Christ's help, “to overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). In Lent, we are able to learn, examine, and get under control our material excesses that can lead us away from God. Remember, Lent is not a diet; Lent is about spiritual results, not material ones. While losing a few pounds may be a nice side benefit, all fasting should be done for the glory of God and spiritual growth. 

Prayer – Lent is an excellent time to develop or strengthen a discipline of daily prayer. Focus not only on intercession but on the ACTS model of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. I like praying through the Book of Psalms during Lent, praying two in the morning and two at night (and using Psalm 119 as a whole day's worth). I also like praying through the Gospel of John during Lent – not just reading it but truly, truly praying it and about it. 

Scripture Reading – When facing temptation in the desert (the basis for the 40 days of Lent), Jesus relied on Scripture to counter the wiles of the devil. As we well know, God's Word is also a formidable weapon for us as well – it's the “sword of the Spirit,” the only offensive weapon mentioned in Ephesians 6. If you aren't in the habit of daily Scripture reading and meditation, or if your children are not yet, Lent is an excellent time to develop the discipline and joy of reading God's Word daily. It is said that it takes 21 days to develop a good habit, and Lent provides us with almost twice that amount of time to develop godly habits of daily prayer, daily Scripture reading, memorizing His Word, and listening to God in His Word and in prayer. If you have already established this discipline, perhaps use Lent to deeply study a certain book of the Bible would be an excellent idea.

Giving – Lent is not just about “giving something up”; it's about putting something positive in its place. The best way to remove a vice is to cultivate a virtue. Lent has been a traditional time of helping the poor and doing acts of love and mercy. While as Christians, we have this calling to giving all year long, Lent is a good time to examine ways to get involved and to make resolutions to actually do them. Perhaps Lent is time to get involved with God's Extended Hand if you aren't already. Or do something as a family to raise funds for a missionary or a Christian charity helping in Haiti like Samaritan's Purse. 

Obviously, Lent is NOT the only time we can practice these spiritual disciplines; we should indeed be practicing them all year long. But Lent presents us the opportunity to do a “deep cleaning,” to focus more fully and completely on weak areas of our spiritual walk. Prayer before Lent begins is very important, asking God to reveal to us where He wants to work on our hearts during this year's Lent. 

Lent is a season that reminds us to repent and ask God to re-center our lives around Him, with our priorities straight and our hearts forgiven and cleansed. Yes, we should do so each day of the year. But sin is an insidious thing, slipping in here, taking a little ground there, and, wrapped up in our busy lives, we often do not notice the darkness creeping further and further into our souls. Ash Wednesday and Lent provide us with a time set apart to present ourselves before God, asking His help and guidance in doing a “spiritual spring cleaning,” a fresh chance to say “Yes” to the Lover of our Souls who created us, who made us in His own image. Lent is the time for a restoration project that will reveal the beauty of God's design for us, demonstrating yet again for us, a forgetful and leaky people, the scale, proportion, and priorities intended for us by our Maker. 

Wishing you all a Holy Lent,

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Celebrating Saint Patrick, Missionary to Ireland

Art © by Marcy Hall at Rabbit Room Arts
Updated from the Archives...

I have often written about Saint Patrick, one of my favorite saints, on this blog. Rather than rewriting, I thought that in remembrance of this amazing man of God I would direct you to some of my posts of years past. 

So feel free to join me in remembering and celebrating Saint Patrick, Apostle to Ireland, with these posts:

Saint Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick, British Missionary to Ireland

The Breastplate Prayer of Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick's Prayer for the Faithful

One of my favorite sermons ever was one by our former youth/worship pastor, now Pastor of La Vina Community Church in Miami, Rollo Casiple, who preached on Saint Patrick during Advent, of all times. But he helped us to visualize so clearly Saint Patrick's relaying of the Gospel to the pagan Irish king that I almost felt that I was there at Slane Castle myself on that Resurrection Sunday 1500+ years ago. Of course, having just watched U2's Slane Castle concert on DVD earlier that week aided my visualization greatly, but that's another post... ;) 

In today's Life for Leaders online devotional, Tim Yee writes this about Saint Patrick:

"Though much of St. Patrick’s life has a legendary quality, his manuscript The Confession of Saint Patrick does give us a glimpse into the man’s life and character. One aspect becomes clear: his humility. He opens with, 'I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many….' Even though Patrick could take credit for bringing thousands of former pagans into the Christian family, he did not embrace a 'savior' mentality. Instead, he knew that only the true Savior, our Lord Jesus, can bring powerful transformation that lasts."

Although Saint Patrick lived more than 1500 years ago, he provides a powerful example of a missions-oriented leader for us all, even today.  

From the 2011 Book of Common Prayer, a Collect for "A Saint's Day":

Almighty God, who calls us to faith in you and has surrounded us by so great a cloud of witnesses; Encouraged by the good examples of holy Saint Patrick, grant that we may run with perseverance the race that lies before us and at the end reach your eternal joy; Through him, who is the founder and perfecter of our faith, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and rules, one God, now and forever. Amen. (References: Hebrews 12.1-2)
So I wish you all a blessed remembrance and joyous celebration of the life, ministry, and prayers of this incredible missionary. May we serve our Lord with similar devotion, submission, courage, and bravery as we walk in the footsteps of Saint Patrick and countless Christians along the Pilgrim Pathway that leads to eternal communion with Christ our Lord.

God's blessings be upon each of you this Saint Patrick's Day, my friends,

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Sunday Before Lent

From the Archives...

Today is the Sunday preceding Lent, and it's the time I set aside to ponder and pray for God's direction for me this Lent.

Although I've attended evangelical churches for the past twenty-five years, I've practiced Lent in one form or another since college. Even though they had both been raised Nazarene, my former roommates had taught me quite a bit about Lent in college, and for my first Lent I gave up my prime addiction: soda. Diet Coke was my coffee; I was drinking my first can at seven in the morning and downed them throughout the day to keep myself alert during classes and the long drive home as a commuter student at the Nazarene university I attended. The wonderful thing was that after Lent, soda upset my stomach, so I've pretty much been on a soda fast since college--drinking water and tea is far healthier!

Lent is a time for spiritual housecleaning for me. I pray over what has a hold on my life in a possibly unhealthy way, and I ask God to loosen this thing's hold on me so that I can live a more balanced life, one devoted to loving and serving Him. In past years I've fasted from television, desserts, gluten, Facebook, fan fiction stories, reading novels, and other often non-traditional items. During each Lent, I don't share here what I am fasting from, but the idea is to not only practice self-denial and to free up time for spending with God that would be spent on less God-centered pursuits, but to offer up something I really enjoy to God as a sacrifice, allowing me to focus on Him and on how He desires to mold me into the image of His Son.

Renovare is a wonderful group that focuses on growing and maturing our relationship with God, and they sent out an article entitled "Why Lent?" which I have copied in part below:
"Why Lent" by Kai Nilsen - More than a decade ago, I gathered with a group of local pastors, representing many denominations, to discuss a worship service we would offer to galvanize our community around a specific outreach initiative. As we were agreeing on a date for the worship service, one of my pastoral colleagues reminded us that the date we had selected was on a Wednesday night in the season of Lent. He wondered if that would be an issue for some of the liturgical churches. 
The Senior Pastor of the local independent Baptist church was quick to respond. “Lent? What’s that? Are you talking about the fuzzy stuff I often find in my belly button?” (Lint!)
We had quite a laugh. Yet, his comment exposed the gulf that lies between the current streams of the Christian tradition when thinking about and practicing the rhythms of the church year. Ironically, ten years later, this same Baptist church created a daily Advent devotional for their congregation in preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth. Liturgical Renewal? Possibly. I would suggest that many parts of the modern church movement, having sold out to the heresy of “new is always better,” are awakening to the beauty of ritual and the recurring rhythms of the church that embed the life of God deeply within our souls. The season of Lent is one of those recurring rhythms that ritualizes the beauty of God’s life-giving, redemptive work in Jesus’ death and resurrection. 
Though the concept of Lent, a season of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, was being articulated as early as the second century, the liturgical season of Lent seems to have taken form in the 4th century. The Council of Nicea (325) called for two gatherings of the synods, one of which was to be held before the forty days of preparation for Easter. By the end of the 4th century, the forty days of Lent had become integrated into the yearly rhythm of the Christian community as they prepared, primarily through the spiritual disciplines of fasting and prayer, for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. 
The number forty has both biblical and spiritual significance. We recall the forty years of wandering in the wilderness for the people of Israel. Moses communed with God on the top of Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights, eating no bread nor drinking water, as he inscribed the words of the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone (Exodus 34:28). Elijah journeyed to Mount Horeb for forty days and forty nights without food nor drink (I Kings 19:8). We also remember Jesus being led by the Spirit, following his baptism, into the wilderness where he fasted for forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:1-2). In each case, whether forty years or forty days, the number forty spoke not only to a span of time but also a span of God’s ongoing presence experienced in trial and temptation, through accumulated wisdom and insight, and by God’s sustaining grace and love. 
This is the forty day journey of Lent. It is marked in days but lived in grace. 
For much of the Christian community, the forty days begins with Ash Wednesday (though the Eastern Orthodox church counts forty days back from Palm Sunday) and continues through the Holy Week stories of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Sundays are not included in the forty days since they are always, even in the season of Lent, a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. 
The image of Ash Wednesday, ashes marked in the sign of the cross on our foreheads, invites us into the season with the proper attitude: humility. The ashes recall God’s words to Adam following his transgression of the boundary around the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) 
For all our railing against it, our mortality is uncovered once again. We cannot deny. We are dependent on the God who breathed life into the dust of the earth and created humanity. We are not the masters of our universe. We have and will continue to fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). In humility we are marked with the cross — the symbol of violent death and the gateway to victorious life, and humbly say to God, “In life and death, we are yours.” 
So what about today? Culturally, we are distracted by many things. If we do not pay attention to our souls, our capacity to be open to God’s creative work in our lives is diminished. The season of Lent presents an opportunity to reflect on the state of our souls before God, the contour of our lives with others, and, above all, the prevailing promise of Jesus’ resurrected life as it breathes new life, new courage, new hope in us and through us, for the sake of the world. 
It is no coincidence that the Anglo-Saxon root word for Lent means “spring.” Pressing in to the season of Lent is a creative exercise in God’s possibility of re-birth for you, for the neighbor, for the whole of creation.... 

I have written many posts on Lent; check out these links to some of my posts if you'd like to read more about this practice--and how I personally have practiced it. I also gave a talk on Lent for a ladies' Bible Study at Lake Murray Community Church several years ago; it's also linked under the header as well as right here: On Lent

Shrove Tuesday 2018
Ash Wednesday and Lent 2018
Keeping a Holy Lent 2016
Lent Begins Wednesday! 2014
Quotations for the Week and Lent 2012
On the Road to Calvary: Lent 2011
Ash Wednesday Retreat: Lent 2011
Lenten Reflection: Part 1 (2010)
Ash Wednesday: 2009
Evangelicals Seeking Ancient Paths (including Lent!)
Why Lent? Act 3 Ministries Article: Lent 2008
Ash Wednesday: 2008 (co-written with Pastor Stephen Sammons)
Lenten Reflections: 2007

The Collect from the Book of Common Prayer 2011 for this Sunday before Lent:
O LORD, you have taught us that all loveless actions are worth nothing; Send your Holy Spirit to pour into our hearts the most excellent gift of love, which is the true bond of peace and all virtue, for without this love we are dead before you; Grant this for the sake of your only Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I find this quotation on repentance rather thought-provoking, and I thought I'd share it with you as our Quotation of the Week:
"Repentance is not some negative, life-denying gesture. In fact, repentance doesn't mean turning to a past way of thinking or doing at all. Repentance means turning to a new way. Repentance does not mean to change from what we are to what we were. It means to change from what we are to what we are going to be."  
~Mark Trotter, "A Lenten Reflection"

So as we prepare to enjoy our pancake dinner on Shrove Tuesday (otherwise known as Mardi Gras), we also pray for God's leading in this Lent. These forty days each year are difficult but precious as I do battle against myself with the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, clenched firmly in my hand. But the Good News is this: we never have to battle alone once we are His. Christ our Brother fights with us and for us...thanks be to God!

Wishing you a blessed and holy Lenten season,


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