Lent?

So far, 2006 has been a blur: long days, late nights, unfinished projects, a schedule that’s bursting at the seams.

It’s in times like this that my longing for a spiritual experience that is deeply rooted and deeply refreshing reaches a nearly frantic state. I simply have to connect with God on a level that makes a difference. Literally.

It’s in these times that so much of the typical Evangelical church experience feels like more noise, more busyness, more hype. This is when much of the programming we offer seems to accomplish little more than making busy people busier.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? In an effort to become relevant to the culture the church parrots the pace and volume of our society until there is no discernable difference.

My soul thirsts for an actual transformational experience, not just a message about transformation or “three easy steps” to understanding transformation. Can I just have the real thing, please?

For hundreds and hundreds of years, Christian worship has followed a rhythm designed to transform hearts. This rhythm includes seasons during which the Church is invited to celebrate special events and experience specific truths. One of these seasons is called “Lent.” It spans 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter. This year, Lent begins March 1st.
Few evangelicals seem to have thought much about Lent. If we’ve heard of it at all, most of us associate it with Catholicism. “Isn’t that a Catholic thing?” I’m asked whenever I mention Lent. I usually try to gently point out that all of Christianity was “a Catholic thing” until just a few hundred years ago.

Unfortunately the point of Lent has been largely lost in our culture. The ancient and powerful discipline of fasting has been reduced to some kind of religious diet. So my friend “gives up chocolate” for Lent because she needs to lose a few pounds.
For others Lent has come to represent an oppressive, forced period of sobriety – kind of like a “time out” from having fun. Few see any point in this kind of experience. It only serves to reinforce the stereotype of God as a killjoy or the Church as an overly-controlling institution.

Yuck.

Do you think we might have missed something along the way? Might this ancient tradition have to do with more than chocolate? Could it possibly address one of the deepest longings of our souls?

The heart of the season of Lent is the invitation to slow down.

The word Lent is derived from an old English word meaning ‘springtime.’ The Latin adverb lente means ‘slowly.’ On the basis of etymology alone, Lent signals the onset of spring and invites us to slow down our pace, to gather our thoughts, to take stock of our lives, to begin once again to put things in their proper perspective.

It’s a time of remembering what really matters, of focusing on what will last. It’s a time to reflect on our relationship with God, to consider our need for a savior, and to embrace the wonder of grace. It’s an invitation to experience the beauty and wonder of redemption. It’s a season of preparation for the celebration of the greatest of all stories: the triumph of good over evil.

Yes, some of us will be more somber and more reflective during Lent. Some of us will embrace a more simple lifestyle for a season. Some of us will grieve or fast or serve more or pray more. But this “observance” of Lent, this “slowing down” will all be focused on something very specific: the desire to receive a renewing of life.

Our church community is taking a fresh approach to this ancient tradition because we’re aching for a spirituality that makes a difference today. May you, too, step off of the fast-paced, consumption-based treadmill of our culture so that you can truly live. May you slow down. May you be renewed.

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Then Moses Blew My Mind

So I’m reading the life of Abraham when it suddenly hits me that this whole record is written by Moses – the law guy, the 10 Commandments guy. It’s Moses that writes that Abraham’s believing God’s affirmation of his calling is credited to him as rightousness.

Is Moses actually saying that Abraham’s fight for faith, his struggle to believe and its successful outcome makes him “right with God” every bit as much as keeping all the commandments of God?

This blows my mind. Moses lays out the 10 commandments, elaborates on things for a couple chapters, then says, “And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” (Dt. 6:25)

But Abraham’s fight for faith is such a remarkable response to crises, his staring down unbelievable odds – I’m 75, my wife is past menopause – and believing that God will keep his promises is so pure and beautiful that Moses writes “that was credited to him as righteousness.”

Apparently, Moses’ main concern is not the nature of Abraham’s faith; it’s Abraham’s willingness to fight for faith.

Faith Like Abraham

Most of us who have spent some years in church have heard people teach about the importance of faith – often we hear Abraham’s story used. Faith is one of the central themes of the Bible.

But most of what we have heard about faith comes primarily from the writings of Paul in the NT. Paul uses a verse from the story of Abraham ( Gen. 15:6 ) but he uses it to make a different point. Paul is arguing with Jewish Christians who are saying that in order to be Christian you have to keep the law – be circumcised, etc. So Paul is talking about having faith vs. having good works. In his world, people are keeping lists of all the good works they’ve done and thinking that that’s what makes them acceptable to God. Paul, correctly, argues that it’s not about having good works, it’s about having faith…which, of course, is one of the most central and unique aspects of Christianity. The problem comes when we begin to think of faith exclusively as something we have… Faith is a noun. Faith as possession.

Paul uses the story of Abraham for his purpose – and it’s a really important argument. But Evangelicals have focused on it so much that when we think of “faith” we think of it as a possession. So we say things like, “If I just had more faith.” “I don’t have enough faith.”

But in the story of Abraham the context is totally different. It’s not about faith vs. works. It’s about faith vs. giving up. It’s about believing or not believing. It’s faith as a verb. It’s faith as fight.

What Abraham is applauded for (originally) is not that he possessed such great amounts of faith, but that he chose to believe God. What’s so inspiring about Abraham is this he fights for faith. Faith, for Abraham, is a verb. It’s not something he has. It’s something he does.

He’s in crises. He’s ready to toss the towel. He’s like, “What’s the point?” God says, “Look at the stars.” And Abraham fights back the disillusionment and believes. He holds on; doesn’t give up. And God says, “That’s what I’m talking about. That’s righteousness.”