I was recently granted the opportunity of writing some curriculum for preteen students. I mention this only because my subject material was quite a challenge. I was commissioned to write about what it takes to trust God in difficult situations. The topics ranged from suffering and persecution to loneliness and doubts. Not exactly the easiest stuff to try to communicate to preadolescence students with burgeoning faith. The topic of loneliness is particularly difficult because more than anything it speaks to our human condition. Anyone reading this post has at one time or another experienced the feeling of being alone and it is particularly poignant during this season of the Christian calendar. This time of year we find ourselves embroiled in the Lenten fast and all that comes with it. Lent is a time to reflect on repentance, mortality, and ultimately our human experience. Lent is intended to bring us closer to the human experience of Christ as we practice life ‘without’ in order to understand what it fully means to experience life with Christ. It is no wonder that the culmination of the Lenten fast is the experience of Good Friday and the anguish Jesus must have experienced as the Triune God took death into itself in order to redeem our condition. Christ became the discarded on our behalf. He was rejected by the empire, by his own, by his followers and left to die…
I know this in no way compares, but without fail I always seem to get sick during Lent.* It is almost as if my body decides to remind me of my mortality in its’ own way. But being sick also leads to feelings of separateness and loneliness. Not to completely reflect selfishly, but sickness always makes one turn inwardly and be consumed with one’s own self. One of the most difficult things to do while being sick is to be a parent. In all honesty I wish I was wealthy enough to just hire my kids out to a nanny until I am back to my normal health. And that’s what amazes me about Christ. In the midst of the most miserable state one could possibly be in (beaten to the point of death, stripped naked, abandoned, and crucified as a common state terrorist outside the city gates) he proclaims, ““Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34. When he was at his most alone moment in his earthly life he was concerned for those of us who were perpetrating those acts.
So I return to Lent. A season where we practice some form of apartness (I realize this is a made up word, but if you have a degree in Theology you are allowed to do this) or separation for the sake of coming a little bit closer to understanding the sacrifice God made for us. So maybe it’s not too bad to feel sick…maybe being low is really the only way to come a little bit closer to knowing what it feels like for Christ to love us when we discarded Him.
* A quick disclaimer: If these random thoughts lack cohesion it is due to the fact that I am not at my best…
I enjoy contemporary worship. I just wanted to get that out of the way before I get into the heart of this post. I really do. I also enjoy high liturgy, southern gospel worship services and a variety of styles when it comes to church worship. But I kind of have a bit of a hang-up when it comes to “worship wars” as of late. You see, for the most part, people’s taste in worship seems to be just about that…their taste in worship. I want to come to church and hear the same thing that I am able to put onto my mp3 player in my car on the way to work. I want the ease of transition from church worship to my car/home radio/office to be so seamless that it doesn’t really take any effort on my part other than just showing up. Something doesn’t quite sit right about that.
In 1 Chronicles chapter twenty one there is this weird story thrown into the history of King David. For some reason he decides to take a military census of Israel rather than trusting in God’s power and so God decides to punish Israel. In the midst of a plague that kills 70,000 David looks up and sees an angel with his sword drawn against Jerusalem and he pleads to God as to how to draw back the angel. God commands him to offer a sacrifice at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. When David tells Araunah he needs his threshing floor the man offers to give it to the king. David’s response is recorded in verse 24, “But King David replied to Araunah, ‘No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing’.” David refuses to offer a free sacrifice. David refuses to offer worship that costs him nothing.
Isn’t that so often what we do though? We seek out worship that puts us in our comfort zone, that makes us feel good, that draws a response out of us…Because after all isn’t worship about us? Or should worship cost us more? Should we have to step out of our comfort zone, examine the place of our heart and our attitude and redirect our thinking about worship. And maybe it isn’t even about the style of music, presentation or preaching. Maybe worship is also about the other decisions in our life. Do we worship God with the type of clothes that we buy? Did we think about who made them and how they were treated? Do we worship God with the food we eat? Were the farmers fairly compensated and the harvesters treated with human dignity? All of a sudden worship becomes very expensive. But isn’t our God worth the expense? Doesn’t His greatness deserve such worship?
I do like contemporary worship. But I sometimes have to think about why I like it. And for some of you the same question can be asked regarding traditional worship. Why do I like it? Where is the cost? What does God deserve?
Every year when we come around to the Lenten season I always have people ask me why I take part in Lent as a Spiritual practice. “Isn’t that something that Catholics do?” And yes, as an ancient spiritual practice and a part of the Christian calendar, this is a practice that is usually reserved for the higher liturgy traditions. But I also believe it is a practice that has great value in other Christian traditions as well.
Lent is defined as the forty day period leading up to Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and is an observation practiced through fasting to symbolize Christ’ forty days of fasting during his temptation in the wilderness. The unique thing about the Lenten fast is that every Sunday during the time period from Ash Wednesday to Easter is a day of celebration from that which you are fasting. This is intended to prepare your hearts for the ultimate celebration in the Christian calendar…Easter! There is a traditional fast prescribed by church tradition, but often in protestant denominations, laity have taken part in a selective fast where they sacrifice part of their daily routine to the forty days.
So how does this add value to our walk with Christ? Lent is really all about appetite…which is ultimately where temptation strikes. We have appetites for all sorts of things and in Lent we sacrifice one of our appetites up to a time to grow with God. In an interview last year, Mike Breen (the head of 3DM), referred to the effectiveness of Lent in the following quote. “Learn to use your will to give something up so that the doors of your heart are crowbarred open just enough so God’s Spirit will give you His power over the other Appetite.” God’s Spirit is partnered with our consecration to Him. If we are yielding our appetites up to Him for forty days, perhaps we are able to easier give the harder things over to Him as well. Growth through Lent can look a lot like growth in Holiness. So may you find forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter as an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to walk with you into the ultimate celebration in the Christian year…the Resurrection of our Lord!
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11
Does anyone else have trouble keeping their head above water during this tumultuous season? I often seem to be drowning after Christmas because of all the excess around me. I even saw a television commercial the other day that was praising the fact that this season of the year is often bent towards overspending and ridiculous self-gratification. What happened? I am not so much concerned with the commercialization of Christmas. I am a little more concerned with the fact that the church has co-opted a philosophical stance that is antithetical to the gospel. Let’s see how easy it is to fill in the blank…”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and ___________________.” I know you were able to fill in the blank without even thinking. But is this a blank, that as Christians, we should be concerned with fulfilling.
It’s amazing how easily we have adopted this as a philosophical belief in the church, but I am not sure I ever heard Jesus being concerned with our personal happiness. Maybe there was something about not worrying. Maybe even something about bringing our concerns, cares, needs, wants to him. But I don’t think the following statement points towards the pursuit of one’s own happiness, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” – Mark 8:34. This may be why I have such an issue with a season that has become typified by excess. Our lives’ should be characterized by sacrifice. We should be more concerned about the happiness and well being of others instead of our own. In fact, I believe Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness maybe she be first for others and then ourselves. While I was in South Africa, I came across a great quote from Nelson Mandela. “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Maybe we can simply replace free/freedom with Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness in this quote and then co-opting that philosophy might not be so bad. We have life, as long as others have life; We have liberty as long as others have liberty; we pursue happiness as long as it is the pursuit of others’ happiness.