What is Lent

You may have heard about the season of Lent before, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday. But what exactly is Lent all about?

Lent is a period of 40 days (excluding Sundays) that commemorates the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before beginning his ministry. It is a time for reflection, repentance, and renewal, as we prepare ourselves for Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

During Lent, many Christians choose to fast or give up something as a form of sacrifice and self-discipline. This could be anything from food to social media to certain habits. The goal is to detach ourselves from worldly pleasures, focus on our relationship with God, and realize that even when we try to life within our own discipline, we still stand in desperate need of God’s grace and strength. Thus even if, or when, we fail in whatever we give up and/or take up for the Lenten season this too is a reminder of our need for Jesus’s grace and mercy. In some ways failure is a part of Lent because during it we recognize that we have all fallen short of the glory of God and need Jesus’s mercy.

In addition to fasting, Lent is also a time for increased prayer, almsgiving (a fancy religious word for giving to those in need) and acts of service to others. Through these practices, we often called to repentance, find our faith deepened, and are drawn closer to God.

Overall, the season of Lent and its call for repentance reminds us of our sin, the death that results from our sin, and, most importantly, that Jesus is the God of grace Who loves and goes after lost sheep, searches for and rejoices over lost coins, and runs out to prodigal sons and daughters, just like you and me.

So what are specific disciplines to consider for the Lenten season?

Things you might want to give up for Lent (we call these fasts):

  • Social Media (this is what I am doing)
  • Caffeine, soda, alcohol, chocolate, or other small treats
  • Fast food or eating out.
  • Your phone or just phones at certain times (no phones at the dinner table).
  • Give up various forms of media – tv shows, movies, reading, podcast, music.
  • Give up sleeping in.
  • Spending money on something that you regularly buy but don’t need.

You don’t have to give up anything but if you do choose to give up something try two things:

  • Give up something that will be difficult – the whole point is to remind us that even in repentance we stand in need of Jesus’s grace. Our self-discipline isn’t enough. Let the struggle remind you of your neediness not your strength.
  • When/If you fail let that failure remind you of your need of Jesus and start again. In some ways, our failure is an integral part of Lent

Things you might want to take up for Lent:

  • Take up a new spiritual discipline – prayer, Bible reading, meditation, fasting, giving, etc.
  • Read, watch, or listen to media focused on the life of the follower of Jesus (this is what I am doing)
  • Perhaps begins each day with this prayer from Psalm 139Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
  • Maybe read a psalm each day and consider how it relates to your day.
  • Journaling
  • Give the money that you don’t spend because of your fast to an organization that helps others.
  • Go to church – I know a great one if you are looking for one – more often or join a small group if you already regularly attend church.
  • Do something nice or buy a treat for someone each day.

Similar to the things that we give up you don’t have to take up anything, but if you do try to continue to let it remind you of your neediness and Jesus’s grace. Lent is not about our strength, but about our weakness and His goodness.

Finally treat the Sunday’s as feast days. Each Sunday during the Lenten season (actually throughout the year) is a mini-Easter. It is a day to celebrate the grace of our God rather than leaning into the struggle. So celebrate. Enjoy the things you have given up during the week. Eat a little more extravagantly. Take naps! Tet make sure that you do it not in celebration of your discipline but to honor the great Lord that we have Who showers His grace on His people. Lent reminds us that we need to repent and that Jesus runs to us with His grace, which is definitely worth celebrating.

Valentine’s Day, Singleness, and the Family of God

A friend of mine retweeted the following tweet today in regard to Valentine’s Day, singleness, and the church. ht Steve B.

I think it is an excellent point and I would add that the same is true for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and those who don’t have children.

I believe the reason this happens is because churches tend to make an idol of the nuclear family. Thus, I’ve heard Christians say that when they finally follow Jesus properly, when He is their “all in all,” then He will obviously provide them with a spouse, because certainly the plan is for them to have a spouse. In this idolatry the will of God always involves a nuclear family and thus the church is shaped around the nuclear family. In this idolatry you simply ignore all the singleness that is found in the New Testament.

In my opinion the idolatry of the family is also why so many churches do so many activities to focus on families and forget others. In some ways the family often becomes what the church is all about, rather than Jesus. My family and I experienced this when we moved to Wisconsin and tried to visit every church in our area to get a feel for what was going on in the community of faith. As a 40 year old couple with a middle schooler and elementary school aged child you better believe we were a hot commodity. People would literally chase us down into the parking lot to make sure we got information concerning the programs they had for our family. I can’t speak to whether the same was done for my single, and childless brothers and sisters in Christ, but I know that personally I often did not receive the same receptions when I visited churches on my own. Very often I could walk in and walk out unnoticed.

Don’t get me wrong, the family is a great thing. The family of God is a central part of the kingdom of heaven, but the family of God isn’t the same thing as the nuclear family of modern, Western society. The nuclear family is parents and 1.13 kids (stats here) in a single family dwelling. The family of God has significantly more diversity within it. Couples, Singles, Parents, Grandparents, Childless, Children, etc., etc. living as the family of God so that there are no longer any “widows and orphans” because no one is left out in the cold.

To all my single and childless brothers and sisters in Christ. You are important parts of the family of God. We need you and what you bring to the family. You aren’t third or fifth wheels. You are another aspect of the image of God and you help all of us to understand our Lord better and live out His grace. Thank you for who you are and I ask your forgiveness for when I haven’t seen you or acknowledged you.