Growing up in non-denominational Christian churches, we barely even talked about Lent, much less observed it. Lent was for Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and various ‘others,’ but not for us. We didn’t have anything against it; we were just more focused on telling people about Jesus in a way that was attractive to people who were turned off by ‘high church’ traditions.
But lately I’ve been reading some stuff by Henri Nouwen, a Dutch catholic priest who wrote absolutely beautiful things about love, grace, God, community, etc. One thing in particular jumped out at me a few weeks ago – a passage about Lent, guilt, and which way our focus turns.
Nouwen contrasts Judas and Peter – two disciples of Jesus who both betrayed him in his final hours. The difference lies in which way their focus turned afterwards. Judas’ guilt spiraled in on himself, leading him to despair and ultimately his death (presumably apart from God, regardless of which death narrative you hold to). On the other hand, Peter’s guilt led him to refocus outward, towards Jesus, and not on his own sinfulness. As a result, he was forgiven, restored, purified. These two clearly illustrate the truth of 2 Corinthians 7:10, which says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
Then today I was reading in James 4, and ran across another passage that led my thoughts once again back to Lent and the frame of mind I believe Lenten observers should strive for.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
– James 4:7-10
It’s the last sentence that really sets it off for me, for two reasons. First off, the repentance, forgiveness-seeking, and purification that go on during Lent should always be about our relationship with God, and not about fulfilling an obligation, obeying a tradition, or seeking approval from people. Secondly, I believe the purpose of Lent is to voluntarily go through a little bit of discomfort, to deny and humble ourselves before God, so that we can fully experience the joy that comes through the resurrection of Jesus. Like Jesus, who “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death…,” we need to go through our own time of humility and obedience to death in order to fully identify with the victory over death.
It’s a beautiful, difficult truth, I think…
Well today is one of those days for me. Here’s why:
– I got back yesterday from a half-week trip with 13 awesome students and two other awesome leaders. The trip was amazing, as you will see in posts to come.
– I messed up at the front end of the trip, and it could have completely derailed the whole thing. Instead, we got to see great generosity from a parent in our ministry, and it ended up being cool and saving us a lot of money.
– On the trip we got to spend a day serving another Seacoast campus in Greensboro, NC. We had a great time, and their place is going to look awesome for Easter. We were honored to help out.
– We spent another day hiking around Hanging Rock State Park. It was awesome on top of more awesome.
– On our way home I got a voicemail from Michelle. We were hoping that she would be able to continue on in her current job at her current school, but weren’t sure if it would happen. She found out Tuesday that it will happen!
– Also on the way home, I talked with the guy at Enterprise Car Rental and got confirmation that the screw up I mentioned above wasn’t going to cost us anything. Yay!
– Yesterday was opening night for Major League Baseball. Yes, I know the Mariners and Athletics played two games in Japan last week. But if the A’s play in Japan and no one cares, did it really happen? Plus, those games were fake, designated-hitter, American League games, and we all know that’s not real baseball.
– Today is opening day for the Braves, the day when “There’s always next year,” becomes “This is our year!”
– Today is also the opening round of the Masters golf tournament, my favorite most years.
– Tomorrow is Good Friday, the day when we celebrate Jesus’ sacrificial death for the forgiveness of our sins.
– Tomorrow is also round two of the Masters.
– I cut my grass last Saturday, which means I don’t have to do it this week. Instead I’ll have the much easier job of fertilizing and watering.
– Saturday is also round three of the Masters.
– Sunday is Easter, the biggest and most important day of the year for those of us who are believers in Christ. It’s the day that marked the end of the old covenant and the start of something wholly new. Thanks be to God that His grace saves and His love redeems!
– Sunday is also the final round of the Masters.
All that adds up to the fact that, even though I’m sitting in the office and things are crazy around here getting ready for Easter services this weekend, life is good right now, and I can’t think of anything that could change that.
How’s life going for you right now?
I know it’s April Fool’s Day, but this is serious. Here is an important public service announcement from the Easter Bunny. Pass it along to others. The more you know…
Between the craziness and family visiting, I know I’ve been a little slack in posting this past week. That will change as soon as I can make it change. Here are some things you can be looking for in the coming days/weeks.
Christianese 101 – I’ve got two more explorations of the weird language we use in the Church in draft form. They should be done in the next week or so.
Thiefin’ Thursday – This week’s #TT is actually a very important public service announcement from the Easter Bunny. It is vital that you check back in on PoG this Thursday, April 1.
New Series! – Yesterday the sermon at our church revolved around the subject of worldview. It got me thinking, “If Jesus were living here and now, how would He view current events, debates, etc. So I’m starting a new series on PoG called “Worldview“. In it, I will attempt to use the words and deeds of Jesus, as recorded in scripture, to shed some light on how He might feel about various issues that are hotly debated or contested right now. And I’m going to tackle a big one right off the bat – the recent Healthcare Reform Act. So get your comment shoes on, it’s going to be fun!
Travel Journal – Next week Michelle and I are going to Connecticut to visit her oldest sister and her family. Neither of us have ever been there, or to Boston, and we’ve both only been in New York City once. We’re doing all of that, so I should have some new experiences to write about.
Hopefully that will tide you over for a little while.