I Don’t Believe in Lent

My friends showed up to volleyball practice with crosses of ash smeared on their foreheads. I looked on with incredulity at the morbid (to me) signs on their forehead as they lamented that it was the beginning of Lent when they couldn’t eat chocolate or candy. The entire purpose of this season to them was a time of loss. I couldn’t understand it. Coming from a Baptist tradition where we didn’t practice Lent, their religious practice leading to Easter didn’t make sense to me and I staunchly declared to myself, if not to them, “I don’t believe in Lent.”

Is not Easter a holiday to celebrate? Does not the cross do away with all acts that seem to earn salvation? Are we to become enslaved once again to the Law, required to participate in rituals to prove our Christian faith? Are we not instead free from all such works?

I patted myself on the back for my arguments and moved on without further reflection. I was not a legalist. I was not trying to prove I was devout. I was not a hypocrite, fasting and hating it.

No. I was merely judgmental, short sighted, and shallow in my understanding of the ancient practices of fasting, Lent, and repentance. Whether these girls were committed to seeking God or not (and am I the one to judge?), the practice of turning to Him during this season is to be treasured.

I did not see the beauty of a contrite heart, the love God has for the humble, or the fruit that comes from a discipline which puts off our selfish motives in order to cling wholly to God. God said, “when you seek me you will find me if you seek me with your whole heart.” Intentionally stopping a behavior for the purpose of focusing that energy on God is definitely a step towards seeking Him with our whole hearts.

I have since fasted over Lent many years. I have given up shopping, sweets, Facebook, and caffeine – some of these more than once. Each time I have fasted I have learned about myself and my tendencies to turn to something other than God to meet my deep need for Him. How I will choose a sugar rush to abate my hurting heart. How I will try to receive “love” through “likes” of my clever posts. How I will try retail therapy in order to convince myself that I am ok.

In the place of these things God has met me in companionship, grace, comfort, abiding love. I have learned that He loved me enough to die for me, despite my turning from Him. That while He appreciates my small sacrifices, He is not sorely disappointed when I slip up and have a bite of sugar. That fasting opens a place in my life for God where I had once excluded Him. And that He is lavish in His forgiveness, mercy, love.

fasting

But, I still don’t “believe in” Lent. We should not participate if we feel that we are saved if we do or damned if we don’t. Participating in Lent will not prove anything to God, earn us brownie points, give us salvation, or make us more holy. We cannot atone for our sins, make it up to God, or earn His favor. Jesus covered all of this on the cross. Jesus continues to make us righteous. We cannot do it through any act of will power, self-deprivation, or good deeds. To believe it does is to deny the power of the cross. The power that raised Christ from the dead. The power that cleanses us and makes us new.

More than that, it is possible to participate in Lent and not worship God. One of the most shocking passages of the Old Testament to me is Amos 5:21-22:

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.

Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.”

Why? Because their hearts were far from God. Their actions towards others betrayed their selfish motives, their lack of compassion for the needy, their worship that made themselves feel good, but did not glorify God. It is possible that we can fast from food, caffeine, television, social media, and remain unchanged, untouched by God.

I still don’t believe in Lent. I believe in the power of the cross. I believe that because of Christ’s work I am made new, am whole, am perfected.

Honestly, Lent snuck up on me this year. Wednesday I panicked because I hadn’t picked anything to fast from and felt guilty as I dipped a chocolaty tim-tam in my coffee. But as I wrote this, I felt God prompting me to do something different this year.

I suspect the next 40 days will not be a time to fast, but instead a time to embrace. A time to step out in courage as I face change and some loss over the summer (more on this soon). I want to spend this season in celebration, gratitude, and love. I want to fellowship with my friends, worship with my church, and hope for the future.

What will this season be for you? These 40 days before Easter? A time to fast? To turn from something to turn towards God? Or perhaps it’s a time to celebrate, to be grateful, to rejoice. Maybe it’s a time to rest, or to practice silence. Or, maybe, it’s a time to step out in faith that He is doing something new. There are many different spiritual practices that create room in our lives for God. Fasting is merely one of them. And Lent is an appropriate time for any or all.

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As a Christian Perfectionist, I feel like a failure (intro to my sermon)

A month ago I preached what has been called my “best sermon yet.” While it didn’t feel that awesome to me (I was tired and a bit uncertain) I do believe that God had something to say. Here is the introduction to the sermon. If you want to hear the whole thing, listen here or get it on iTunes here (11/9/14 “Clothe Yourself in Christ”).

During my sophomore year of high school, I woke up each morning at 5:30 in order to spend 30 minutes reading my Bible and praying before getting ready for school. During those times, the Spirit moved within me as God’s word began to impact my life as never before. I read about love, forgiveness, life. And as I struggled with depression for the first time, I experienced comfort and acceptance in God’s presence.

Those times were precious to me.

I desired my friends to experience this life and I’m sure I came across pushy and judgmental as I awkwardly told them they needed to read the Bible, too. But it came from this deep desire that they know God.

This season was sweet. And it was short. Summer vacation came and so did my late nights watching every episode of Wonder Years on Nick @ Nite and sleeping in. As I went on, still following Jesus, I felt pangs of guilt in my conscious that I should have been better at reading the Bible. The few times a week here and there were not good enough. I believed I was not doing well as a Christian. My youth group meetings, church services, and FCA meetings confirmed this. Read your Bible! Pray! And for 30 minutes. In the morning. Because that’s when Jesus did it. While it was still dark. Before everyone else got up.

If you check this off of your list, you will be ok.

And as I read scripture, I began to see that there were behaviors that would please God and those that God did not like so much. So, as I read, I tried to change. I would search for ways that I needed to change and try to learn how to be the girl God & others wanted me to be, on my own.

If you can hold your tongue, not swear, never drink alcohol, dress modestly, if you could just be perfect, sweet, humble, kind, quiet, then you will be acceptable as a Christian woman. Then you are good enough.

But I have a temper. I used to scream at my little sisters and smack them, hard, if they got in my way. When I was 15 or 16 I left a stinging hand print on my 7 year old sister’s back. I was horrified with my sin and vowed to never hit anyone again. I refrained from my sisters and have avoided spanking my children, terrified of the wrath inside of me.

And there’s this thought in me, if only I was better at following Jesus I would not have a temper. If only I just did more to follow Christ, then maybe I could have myself under control.

As humans, we tend to view ourselves as one of two ways. Either we work our butts off to prove to everyone that we are good enough, terrified of failure, constantly trying to perfect ourselves on our own. Or we feel that we are not good enough and give up trying to be, accepting that no one, not even God could love or help us. We are perfectionists, trying to “make it” on our own. Or we believe ourselves to be failures and give up before we even try.

Any one of the individuals on either side of the spectrum are desperate, whether we will admit it or not…

Listen here for more…

clothe in christ

Why I’m Grateful I Screw Up

The Way of Gratitude: Day 6 (originally posted here)way of gratitude (2)

Reading this, I remember why I’m naming our dog Gracie. Grace is amazing. In the full sense of that word.

Last night, I didn’t post about gratitude. I didn’t feel it. I was worn out from lots of housework, only to find that the hose from the washing machine fell to the floor during a load yesterday causing the laundry room to be soaking wet.

Not. Fun.

As I cleaned up the mess at 10:15 pm, I recited to myself, “Be grateful. You have a washer and dryer. Be grateful.” And I was for a moment, as I remembered walking up and down three flights of stairs to use machines across the courtyard from our apartment 7 years ago…

But I didn’t want to write about that.

I was feeling tired, whiny, and stressed when I went to bed.

And this morning… I woke up with a sense of guilt.

“I didn’t blog. I didn’t follow through on my commitment. I wasn’t grateful enough. I haven’t done enough to… to…” To do what? Oh that’s right, it comes down to this: “I haven’t done enough to please God.” Yup.

My entire life I feel I’ve been running around trying to do the right thing to make God happy. Because, maybe if I don’t sin, things would go well for me. Because maybe if I did things right, I would have his approval. Because maybe if  I was perfect on my own, he wouldn’t have had to die for me.

That is such a backwards expression of Christianity, yet it is one that is incredibly prevalent in a society that for years has used the church as a place to learn how to live moral lives. The Church is no longer a place to receive grace, but often a place to just receive a message on how to “do it better.” Completely focused on behavior. Not on the message of the cross.

What’s been forgotten is what Paul said to the Galatians who were backtracking to follow the Law instead of living in the New Covenant of Grace.

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:4 TNIV)

Nothing we do is good enough. And, conversely, if we try to save ourselves by doing good things, we alienate ourselves from Christ and his grace.

To be a Christian is to believe that it is through Christ’s death, his sacrifice ALONE, that we are saved and to give up all attempts to be good enough. To be a Christian is to confess, “I cannot do it on my own. God, forgive me. Help me.” And to be a Christian is to receive God’s forgiveness.

But when we try to be good enough with our own striving, we are strapping the rules and regulations of the law back on our backs like backpacks full of bricks. We have in effect rejected Christ’s work on the cross when we try to be good enough.

My writing this blog or not, my “being the best I can be,” my efforts that eventually fail… these things are all covered by God’s love. That is true grace. Forgiveness when we fail and have nothing to offer.

My not blogging last night producing such feelings of guilt is obviously an overreaction, but I am grateful for that feeling, because I was reminded that what I do or don’t do won’t affect my standing with God. I am his child. Period.

What I do or don't do won't affect my

I am eternally grateful that I don’t have to strive to make it up. God has already forgiven me of anything wrong I could possibly do.

Yes, I’m grateful for Grace.

I hope I’ve made it clear why.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 TNIV)

What I Remember When I Feel I Don’t Have Enough

The Way of Gratitude: Day 4 (originally posted here)

This evening we went to Costco and stocked up. Apples, bread, pancake batter, mandarins oranges, pizza, sponges, toothbrushes… and on and on. So much so that I groaned a little as I paid for it all. I’m not sure how much we have left in our grocery budget this month. And tonight, I don’t really want to figure it out.

Each month I clip coupons, shop the sales, and am as smart as I can be with our budget, but so often it doesn’t seem like enough. And today, as I put our purchases away, I had the familiar internal dialogue. Is it enough? Were these the best purchases we could make? Will we get through the month? What should I spend the remaining $XX.XX on? Will we have enough produce? Yogurt? Chick peas? (Ben is insanely picky and strangely enough these are my go-tos) Will we have enough?

As I remembered this challenge God has for me, choose Gratefulness over complaining and worry, tears come to my eyes. Sometimes it is so hard. And money can be really discouraging.

But then I remember a well known Scripture that got me through the second half of my pregnancy with Ben, through the unsuccessful external version, through the c-section and the first months of his precious life: The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need. (Psalm 23:1 NLT)

psalm 23-1

It became a breath prayer for me during that time. I repeated it often. During times of uncertainty, pain, stress, I remembered. The Lord is my shepherd. He is with me. He is my provider. The Lord of the galaxies who has infinite resources in his hands is my provider. In Him I have everything I need.

Recently, God taught me this in an undeniable way. We had been really struggling financially for months when I went to a conference where that message above was taught. I had never considered God that way before: Infinite resources. Desiring to care for us. I was challenged to trust in a way I never had before. After the conference, I asked for a very specific amount of money to come in through Tim’s business and my work the next month. At the end of the month, Tim texted me. We made that much exactly. Plus 84 cents. (update: I recently wrote about this here)

Incredible.

So, as I face the next couple of weeks, I look at the food on hand and trust that we do indeed have enough. To feed our kids, to keep them healthy, to keep them full, to be taken care of. We have enough.

And I am grateful.

Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Making the Journey from Bitter to Grateful

way of gratitude (2)

With Thanksgiving approaching, I can’t help but remember this miniseries I did during the summer of 2013. Reading through it recently, I wanted to share it with you again. It’s not all well written. It’s not all deep. It’s not always great. But here’s what it is: Honest. True. As I read it I can see my days progress from struggling to find something to be grateful for, to seeing goodness even on my most stressful day. 

I hope as you approach Thanksgiving and Christmas, that you can see God’s goodness, faithfulness, lovingkindness in your own life. May these reflections be the starting point on your journey to gratitude.

The Way of Gratitude: Day 1 (This post was originally published here.)

I had no excuse. Months ago, I found myself griping over my kids again and realized how ugly it was. Actually, Tim pointed it out. As most parents know, the hour before dinner is a tough time. Stomach’s are starting to growl, minds are tired, and tempers are short. I would make food, snap at my kids and then complain about it all to Tim the moment he walked through the door.

I’m surprised he kept coming home.

My attitude towards my children was largely negative as I let myself gripe. God used the words from James 4:11 to make me pause: “Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another.” Do not judge others harshly. Do not gossip. Do not deface. Do not discourage, condemn, hate. Do not talk about another behind their back. Do not slander one another.

I was caught slandering my kids.

I felt challenged that day to take the time to be thankful for one thing each day related to my children. Be thankful for them. To choose gratefulness, not bitterness. To build up, not tearing down. To offer thanksgiving and for once be full of joy.

There’s been enough whining in this house.

1 choose gratefulness

 

So here it is, Day 1:
Today I am thankful that my kids make me laugh. I so deeply desire to give in to laughter. Laughter that’s not stuck in my chest, but can sink into my belly as I join the unique laughter God gave to each of my kids. I am thankful for today’s laughter in the midst of stress and illness (I don’t feel very well). I look forward to laughing each day.

Today, Ben made me laugh when he chose a unique way to copy his brother. But first, a story from about a month ago. Jack was getting dressed in the other room and he was taking longer than usual. So I asked, in a sing-song voice, “Jack, what are you doing?” Without missing a beat, he echoed my tune, “Putting my underwear on my head.”

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Today, Ben wanted to do just that.

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A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Proverbs 17:22

update: Even today, Tim hears me complain. Even today, I whine. And even today, I need to choose gratitude. Lord, have mercy. Lord, help me. Lord, be with me.

For the first time, I acknowledged my loss…

Day 8 of 31 Days of Connecting31 days of connecting

My journey of 31 days is taking a little turn. Over the next days – as many as it takes – I want to share my recent story with you. It started here, yesterday. Please start there. I pray that hearing my story of connecting – of REconnecting – will help you connect with God, others, and yourself.

In January 2013, I felt life was going really well. Ben was one, Jack was four, my depression was under control, I had excitement for Scum of the Earth Church and sensed that God was bringing something new to our community through a movement of prayer and worship.  I had hope of redemption and faith that God brings things around for the better – hope that I had been missing for a few years. At last God had reminded me that He brings joy to life, not just endurance.

So, when we held our first night of prayer and worship at Scum, I was filled with anticipation and expectation of what God would do.

The evening was beautiful as people came and saught the LORD. And God was moving. He was redeeming. He was encouraging. He was speaking. I was honored to be part of it and more confident than ever that this was where I was supposed to be.

Then one of our leaders asked my husband, Tim, and me to pray for his health. I prayed. Tim prayed. When we finished, he turned to Tim and told him how impactful his prayer was. That there was power in his hands.

He said nothing to me.

I felt myself fall to pieces. My confidence vanished. I was hurt that he didn’t recognize God’s work in me – I feared maybe God wasn’t working in me. I battled with my insecurity and shame until I finally told Tim, “I feel useless.”

Tim then wanted to ask that same leader we prayed for to pray for me. I was horrified and scared to discover where these feelings were coming from. Was I under spiritual attack?

But we asked the leader, and he prayed over me. Then he said the thing I least expected. He said that fear is often connected to grief. He told me I need to consider what I’ve lost in my life and how that has affected me and caused me to fear. My fear and insecurity was not an outside attack, but God was healing me by revealing my deep pain.

I was bewildered. I had never considered myself as needing to grieve. However, within 24 hours, I had a list of lost relationships; more than 20 individuals whose relationship with me had been severed in some way. From middle school friends to professional mentors. From relatives to peers. From best friends to boyfriends. Deaths. Illnesses. Moves. I had said goodbye to so many people and I felt the hurt of them all.

For the first time I acknowledged my loss.

And my pain.

I wrote in my journal:

Sometimes I fear no one loves me as deeply as I do them. That Tim could not be as crazy about me as I am about him. Or that friends don’t want my friendship. Or even, Lord, that I have to earn your favor… Now, being away from family, having few friends, or even close co-workers, I feel afraid of losing more, being rejected all over again…

I began to grieve.

day 8to be continued…

 

Meeting God in the Nothings…

Day 4 of 31 Days of Connecting

day 4

Today, we have nothing planned. Well, almost nothing. No work. No meetings. No writing (I’m writing this on Friday) No house cleaning or laundry or dinners… Nothing I don’t want to do.

That’s what my Saturdays have turned into. Nothings. And in those times of Nothings, I have found the space I need to rest, rejuvenate and reconnect with God.

It typically takes me most of Friday to calm down. To turn my brain off from work and to turn to what’s important. It takes me a couple of hours on Saturday to wake up, to fully wake up to the day and to realize that this is the Lord’s day. The day I take to create a bunch of nothingness in order to read, pray, connect with my family and to just be.

It’s glorious.

I’ve been intentionally practicing Sabbath for a few months now. Intentionally setting aside my Saturdays to have nothing planned. I was afraid at first that if I did that everything would fall behind. That I would only wind up with more to do on the other days of the week. But that has not been the case.

Because I take an entire day to do nothing but be attentive to the Lord and the needs of my relationship with my family and myself, I find that I am much more attentive to what is needed every other day of the week. Because I take the time to train my ear to the Lord on Saturday, I can hear him better on Wednesday. Because I let myself rest and unwind on Saturday, I am able to start up again at church on Sunday.

Because I meet God in the midst of nothing, I find that I have everything.