An Open Letter: Your plans for Lent…

Courtesy of Huffington Post (click picture for link)

Dear Baptist Spirituality  readers,

Lent is coming up rather quickly.  It begins on Ash Wednesday, February 22nd.

Lent is the time in which we follow Jesus into the wilderness and place our trust on God in a renewed spirit of faith.  It consists of 40 days (Sundays not included) that lead up to Holy Week (Palm Sunday through Easter).  These 40 days echo Jesus’ time in the wilderness.

It was there that Jesus faced several temptations, all of which sought to throw doubt on Jesus’ dependence upon God.  Satan told Jesus that he, Jesus, did not have to rely on God.   Jesus could be powerful, even avoiding death on the cross.  Jesus could satisfy his own longings by joining Satan’s forces on earth rather than ascend to His heavenly Father.  Jesus could test God and take the short-cut to become an earthly, divine messiah bent on war and conquest over Rome.

“Worship me,” Satan said, “And all the kingdoms of the earth shall be yours.”

Jesus, of course, resisted all three temptations.  “Humans,” Jesus told Satan, “Do not live on bread alone, but on every Word of God.”

How easy it is to turn stones into bread!  We, too, are asked to give up something or change something drastically–in a spirit of repentance–in order to follow this path of self-sacrifice and abandonment.

Every year, I hear lots of ideas about what people are doing for Lent.  Some folks fast this or that; others do something extraordinary to help their spiritual growth.  Yet others take remarkable, if not unusual, steps to help them get closer to Christ.

I’d like to know what you are doing this year during Lent.  What are things from which you will fast?  What books or devotionals are you reading?  What prayers or internet resources will help support your Lenten journey?

Please leave a comment on this thread, and let us know!  Perhaps your ideas will inspire those of others!

Blessings,

Joe LaGuardia

The wilderness of Lent and the journey to Calvary

Jesus Tempted, by Chris Cook

I have come to believe that God meets us precisely where we are.  Sometimes God meets us in the darkness of night or in the dawn of a new day.  Other times, in the green field of His pasture.  We find God on the mountain of praise or in the valley of grief.

During Lent, we travel with Jesus and meet God in the wilderness of testing (Matt. 4:1-11).  Just as Jesus learned to go without food in a place of vulnerability and temptation, we also sense our deepest needs and learn to trust God.

Biblical wilderness often evokes some sort of conversion and transformation.  God sent Israel to the wilderness right after the Exodus from Egypt.  There, they became hungry and thirsty; they were uncertain about their future (Ex. 16).

In facing the barren landscape of testing, Israel started to complain to Moses.

“Why have you brought us out here to die?” they asked, “When we could have stayed in Egypt and had a hot meal and a sense of purpose.”  God heard their complaint and rained manna down from heaven to test “whether or not they will heed my instruction” (16:4).

I’m sure Jesus knew exactly how the Israelites felt.  He had just passed through his own Exodus of sorts with John, and he was filled with God’s Spirit to fulfill his life mission.  He went to the wilderness for forty days and became hungry. No wonder Satan’s first temptation related to food.

“If you are truly the Son of God,” Satan said, “Then turn these stones into bread.”

Surely, turning stones to bread would have been easy for Jesus.  Satan was right: Jesus was (and is) the very Son of God.  This was the guy who eventually fed 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread and some leftover fish.  Jesus could have made some manna of his own.

But this was the wilderness, and it was Satan that tempted Jesus.  Miracles were not meant to impress those who deceive Christ, Satan included.

Nor is our wilderness a place for miracles either; rather, it is quite the opposite.  Here, in the barren landscape of the soul, we are stripped of all things that would satisfy our fleshly desires.  We are left to a God who wants us to relinquish our entire life to him.

God doesn’t even throw us a bone, He turns us into bones that He may breathe into us His new, life-giving Spirit.  “Arise and walk,” Ezekiel once said to similar bones thousands of years earlier.

In wilderness we do not receive entitlements; our notions of self-reliance and independence fail us.  Our illusion that we have made it “this far on our own” crumble under the weight of God’s test.  Wilderness is, as Henri Nouwen once wrote, the “fiery furnace of transformation where the old self dies and the new self emerges.”

And that is really what is at stake–for the Israelites, for Jesus, and for you and me.  God requires that we drop the facade, the edifice, of the false self–the person who we think we should be–in exchange for the Christ-centered self.  This is the call to live a radical lifestyle in which we trust God for all things, including the basics of life–food and water.

Lent is a time to remember these things and enter the wilderness of fasting and testing.  But there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel, for Lent eventually gives way to the redemption found at Calvary.  There we crucify once and for all the sinful nature of the old self, and experience resurrection with Christ by “putting on” the new self.  The question is: Do you have what it takes to let the Spirit drive you out to the wilderness so that you give your all to God?

Unique among friends: Creative fasting ideas for Ash Wednesday

This week is an important week in the Christian year: We begin the journey of Lent on Ash Wednesday, March 9th.  Lent is a period of forty days that leads up to Holy Week.

Specifically, Lent is a time to travel with Christ through the wilderness of conversion and transformation.  Remember the story in Matthew 4 when Jesus went to the wilderness to be tempted for forty days?  We too enter a wilderness place of the soul, and there we discover our need to repent.  There we find redemption on the road to Calvary.

Ash Wednesday is the official start of Lent.  It is a time to hear God’s call to repentance, remember Christ’s suffering by taking communion, worship, and receive the imposition of ashes.  (Ashes are a sign of penitence and mourning, a symbol that marks us for Christ and affirms our self-denial for His sake.)

Many people sacrifice something for Lent to get into the rhythm of self-denial, like certain foods or drinks.  But Lent is not just about sacrificing something, it’s a about replacing something with a spiritual discipline.

As you think about your fasting “covenant” for Lent, here are some creative ideas:

  • Replace “cursing” or swearing during heated or intense moments with patience and humility.
  • Replace sarcasm with words of healing.
  • Replace “screen time” (TV, computer, etc) with reading your Bible or personal devotions.
  • Replace broadcast nightly news with board games with the family.
  • Replace bickering with hugs and smiles.
  • Replace midnight snacks with journaling or prayer.
  • Replace ice cream with fruit and more water.
  • Replace reading romance novels with reading a book to your child/grandchild.
  • Replace nightly television with making up stories with the family–have each family member make up their own story and tell it using props.
  • Replace emails with hand-written notes or letters.

If you are in the Atlanta area, we invite you to come to Trinity Baptist Church for Lent this Wednesday at 7 PM.  We will have communion, worship, and hear the inspiring sacred sound of Diana Polisena.  The imposition of ashes will also take place.  Hope to see you there!