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Monday, February 11, 2013

Benefits of Lent


For centuries, revolving around the Exodus event, Jews have followed a prescribed religious calendar called a lectionary. The earliest Jewish Christians kept the idea of a lectionary, but because of Jesus, they changed the calendar. The life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus now formed the framework of their year. According to the lectionary, time isn’t measured according to the length of the solar calendar (Romans) nor the Exodus (Jews); it is measured according to the life of Jesus. This allows a Christian to re-live the narrative of Christ-event every year.

Lent is a time of spiritual preparation. Lent is a season of 40 days (excluding Sundays) developed to prepare for the holiest season of the church calendar: Resurrection Sunday and the six weeks of Easter Season (in Northumbrian Old English, the month of April was named after the goddess, Eostre, hence our word, “Easter”). Ash Wednesday (Feb 13) is the first day of Lent. Because Lent typically involves various kinds of fasting, people often have one last, big meal the night before Lent begins. Thus began the tradition of Fat Tuesday (in French, it’s “Mardi Gras”). Here are a few reasons why celebrating Lent can aid you in your spiritual growth.

First, Lent reminds us of the terrible situation we were in before Jesus. You know how when you were a  kid, your parents always bored you with those stories of, “I remember when . . .” or “There was a time when I didn’t have all these things”? The significance of those stories is that it recalls a time when things were much worse. It helps us remember of how far God has brought us. Lent is like that. It reminds us of the terrible condition of sin that you and I were in prior to being saved in the risen Jesus. It’s always healthy for us to “remember our spiritual roots.” Lent helps us remember always to include in our testimony a story of “I remember when I was headed for destruction because of my sinful condition.” In this way, Lent always keeps us humble and eternally grateful for the awesome, undeserving gift of a love relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit. Have you forgotten how far you’ve come?

Second, Lent reminds us of the terrible consequences of sin. As the Bible demonstrates, sin is anything we do that breaks down the love relationship that we are designed to share with the Trinity and our neighbor. Lent reminds us that sin is a terrible, destructive power in our lives: it tears away at the love relationship we were designed to maintain with the Trinity and our neighbor. Before Jesus, you and I were slaves to sin. After Jesus, we are no longer slaves to sin, but repeatedly hampered by it (as Hebrews 12:1 says, it’s like a heavy weight that bogs us down). As Christians, Lent reminds us of the absolute necessity of confession and repentance. Lent reminds us of how we should be repulsed by any sin, and the necessity of being in step with the Spirit as He transforms us into the image of the Son. Do you have any sins that you’ve allowed to rule in your life?

Third, Lent reminds us of the necessity of contrition and self-control. Fasting performs two functions: (1) it demonstrates contrition because we abandon something that we enjoy; (2) it helps us practice self-control. The assumption is that if I can say no to sleep or food or drink, then surely I can say no to various sins. So, we sacrifice various necessities and pleasures to demonstrate contrition and practice self-control. We need self-control because we tend to make idols out of nearly everything. Lent reminds us not to cling too tightly to anything or anyone other than God.

If you’re like me, sacrifice is very troubling because it forces me to come face to face with the various idols I’ve made in life. I like my “stuff.” I like what I like and I don’t want to give it up. You’ll never see a better example of sacrifice, and the emotional/psychological impact that it has on a person, until you’ve seen a child not receive that toy or fun activity they really wanted. Tantrums occur in children and adults, don’t they? I’d hate to have a video that showed my emotional tantrums in response to sacrifice. Do you have idols that need to die? What do you need to sacrifice?

These three reasons alone help you see why, every single year, Lent is so troubling for me. It’s a very hard, dark season. It reminds me of how terrible my condition was before Jesus. It reminds me of the terrible consequences of sin in my life now. It reminds me of how many things in my life I should sacrifice and abandon because I turn almost everything into an idol.

When you’re swimming deep in water and realize you’re almost out of air, a terrible desperation comes over you. Panic seizes you. You kick your legs and stroke your arms in a fury to the top. A foot of water feels like a mile. And when you burst through the top, heart palpitating and adrenaline streaming through your veins, you take the biggest gulp of air you’ve ever taken. The sense of safety, celebration, and peace that comes over you after the ordeal can be overwhelming.

Lent is the necessary race to the water’s surface. Join with me in this Season of Lent. And together, when you and I make it to Resurrection Sunday, we will burst forth into the glorious light and gulp in the air like never before.

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