The Difficulty with Submission in Lent

By Joe LaGuardia

Several years ago–has to be nearly a decade by now–the Holy Spirit convicted me that I needed to learn a thing or two about submission and obedience.  I had been a Christ-follower for some time, but I have always had a flavor for independence and strong-willed stubbornness.

In fact, I became a Baptist not 10 years earlier precisely because I did not want to answer to a bishop, pope, or diocese bureaucracy.  A Baptist minister only answers to his or her congregation, but that’s different: there is a relationship; things are contextual; there is room for understanding and dialogue.  Joe LaGuardia was not going to have to explain his philosophy of ministry to some fool who lives tens of hundreds of miles away.

You can see where my problem and attitude can get the best of me here.

So the Holy Spirit convicted me.  God was going to bend my will towards His own one way or another, and it was going to be during none other than the season of Lent.  I had practiced Lent before, but not as seriously as I should have or could have.

The Holy Spirit showed me the first steps: I felt led to go to a nearby monastery and seek out one of the fathers for spiritual direction.  The Holy Spirit did not give me much of anything else, but that’s the marching orders that I got, so I stuck with it.

When I made the appointment, I was assigned to Father Francis once a month.  His specialty (and the monks do have specialties) was centering prayer, and he wanted to instruct me on this ancient practice–a time of silence and solitude, of centering, of meeting with God for nothing more than to spend time with my beloved Creator–every time we met.

Father Francis gave me a card with instructions, and for the next four months he instructed me on various ways to pray.  I was the one seeking spiritual direction, but I did not get a word in edgewise.  Yet, every time I became frustrated with my sessions with the Father, the Holy Spirit jumped in and reminded me why I was meeting in the first place: this was not about me, it was about submission.  It was about obedience.

I was to obey all of the instructions that Father Frances gave me with no questions asked.

I did.  For the entire season of Lent and throughout that summer, I followed those instructions.  I sat in silence and prayer for about 15-20 minutes a day.  I practiced saying my “prayer word,” and sought to master the nuances of apophatic prayer (those of you who studied this stuff know what I mean).  I did my homework.

I was moved.  I was heart-broken (in a good, cathartic way). I was frustrated.  I was angry– all of the paradoxical feelings that confront us when we fast and submit to the kind of life in which God makes us step out of the throne of our hearts so that Jesus can take his place as Lord of our lives. This prayer-stuff was hard work.

I say all of that now because those feelings still arise in me every Lent.  Although I have done something serious and intentional for the season every year since that time–not to mention writing a dissertation on spiritual disciplines and spiritual direction, of which all of this prayer work and submission had been a part–it is still difficult for me to move over and let God direct my life.

It seems that this season is made more difficult because the Holy Spirit is reviving in me some old wounds that I have not faced in a long time–mostly surrounding some squabbles I had with Baptist clergy several years back.

I won’t bore you with the details, but I am not sure I forgave some fellow pastors who have hurt me during that time.  And, apparently, that hurt still abides; so God is bringing me back to the drawing board again–and its about submission.  It is always about submission.  How else are we to travel through Lent and to the cross of Christ, the very place where we crucify our old selves, false selves, ego, and pride that ensnare us and get in God’s way?

Its a terrible, terrible job (just being honest), but we have to do it.

This year, in order to teach me the full weight of obedience again, God pinned me down on my love for XM radio in the car, to which I’ve subscribed since 2008.  As a result, I will be…..(I can’t even write it but I will)……discontinuing….(oooh, ouch!)…..my subscription….(doh!)…..for a time, and that’s the one thing (the Holy Spirit ALWAYS finds the ONE thing!) that I don’t want to let go of most.  So that’s that.

Perhaps those old wounds–and that clergy battle from years ago–is merely a scapegoat.  I don’t want to cast my love for XM radio at the foot of the cross of Christ, so I’d rather put them there.

So here we go again…

 

 

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Wishes for Lent

ashes in a pileBy Matt Sapp

I wish ashes weren’t so messy. When you’re getting ready for an Ash Wednesday service, they can get everywhere. Once you touch them, you can’t touch anything else until you’ve washed them off. And that’s not always easy. It can take some real scrubbing.

I wish Lent wasn’t so long. Forty days is a long time. And that doesn’t even include Sundays.  I spent most of my life thinking there were ONLY forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Turns out there’s forty-six. Even if you don’t “give up” anything for Lent, forty-six days is an awful long time to spend looking forward to Easter.

And I wish Lent wasn’t such a downer. Why do we have to talk so much about death and dying this time of year at church? Isn’t church supposed to be hopeful and cheery and bright? There’s enough of the other stuff in the rest of my life. Why do we have to focus so much on ashes and dust and dirt and thorns and crosses draped in purple and black? Why does everything have to seem so heavy?  Isn’t spring just around the corner?

I wish life wasn’t so messy. It seems like even the smallest of mistakes can take over my whole life. The tiniest of errors can change my whole attitude until it grows into a dark cloud hanging over me. And it’s not just my mistakes, either. It’s what other people do, too. It seems like one negative thing—once it’s touched me—well, I can’t seem to do anything else until I figure out how to move on from it. And, let me tell you, it’s not always easy to move on from some of the situations I find myself in! It can take some real scrubbing.

I wish the uncertain periods in life weren’t so long–the periods where I’m anxious or afraid or lonely or depressed. I always knew that periods of struggle and doubt and real worry and pain were a big part of my life, but now that I think about it, they take up more of me than I would ever have guessed at first. Even if there’s no overwhelming sense of something wrong in my life, my whole life seems like an awful long time to spend looking forward to something better.

I wish the messiness and waiting in life wasn’t such a downer. Why do I have to spend so much time dealing with—or being the punching bag for—other people’s problems?  And why do I spend so much time dealing with problems of my own? Isn’t life supposed to be hopeful and cheery and bright? Why does it seem like I’m always replaying the heavy stuff? Why can’t I seem to dwell on the positive a little more? Is it summer yet?!?!

So, what if there were a way to clean up the messiness? What if there were a way to live our lives in the present so that we’re happy with the way things are right now? What if there was enough Good News in our lives—and in our world—to wash our blues away?

I guess what I’m trying to say is, “What if Easter is real?” What if resurrection is possible? What if new life is available now? And what if it’s all worth a few days—or even forty-six days—of preparation to grab hold of it?

But here’s the rub. What if the preparation for resurrection requires a certain kind of dying?

A dying to self and selfishness and self-directedness to make room for something new?

Would we still be willing to give it a shot? I wonder.

And I wish ashes weren’t so messy.

*This article ran on the Heritage Baptist Fellowship blog and is reprinted with the author’s permission.

Transfiguration Sunday and “Pastor Stunts”

Many popular pastor stunts include "sex challenges" that encourage couples to become more intimate.

Many popular “pastor stunts” have included “sex challenges” in order to cultivate greater intimacy in Christian marriages.

By Joe LaGuardia

I’ve been trying to think of a stunt to pull.  I’m still not sure if it will be a stunt to raise money, draw attention to my church, or advocate for a cause.  There has to be something out there for me to do.

That’s the “in thing” for pastors these days.  According to an article by David Gibson in The Christian Century (19 February 2019, p. 15-16), pastors across the nation are pulling stunts for a multitude of reasons.

In Utah, for instance, a Mormon Bishop visited his parish disguised as a homeless man to see how he would be treated.  In Chicago, a pastor stayed in a tent on the roof of his church in order to raise money.

Many stunts focus on sexuality and intimacy in marriage.  The Reverend Paul Wirth of Florida encouraged married couples in his church to have intimate relations (I’m keeping it clean for our young readers) for 30 days in a row.  (The name of his church is “Relevant Church,” and the irony did not escape this writer.)

Then there are a courageous few who try to follow every law in the Old Testament.  Those stunts always end with humorous shenanigans, long beards, and a memoir.

I haven’t been able to think of a stunt to try myself.  In fact, the harder I think about it, the more I can’t help but wonder whether a “pastor stunt” intends to attract attention to the pastor or to the Lord.

I wonder if this is what it felt like when Jesus brought James, Peter, and John up to a mountain, transfigured before their very eyes in a shared vision, saw heroes of old, and heard God’s voice (Matt. 17:1-13).

Jesus was not pulling a stunt, but his disciples (thinking it was a stunt) started to come up with ways to make the transfiguration a public event, a money-making scheme that would draw attention to themselves and their experience.

It was Peter who recommended, “Let us make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (17:4 RSV).

Peter had a knack for business, and he was not going to keep this God-experience to himself.  Jesus knew as much, so he told them all to keep it to themselves until after he rose from the dead.

There were to be no stunts in the Jesus camp that time around.

This weekend marks Transfiguration Sunday in the life of the Christian year.  It is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the very last Sabbath before the season of Lent.

It is the mountain-top experience that eventually leads to the wilderness experience of testing and trial.  It is, in a sense, the Fat Tuesday of all spiritual experiences before the fasting that follows.

The disciples wanted to make that mountain-top experience last forever.  They wanted booths in order to have a place to settle, a place to call home and bring people to them.

What is a stunt but a show to bring people in and entertain?  Transfiguration Sunday is, instead, about God’s ceaseless call to go out on mission.  No sooner had the disciples ascended that mountain did they descend it to continue in the routine life of ministry, the real work of God.

Jesus has no time for booths or stunts.  Jesus is not in league with schemers.  There is much work to do, and we are to “listen” and obey Jesus (17:5), who ultimately fills us with the awe that our stunts can only try to replicate.