lenten journeys: grace

It never ceases to amaze me how different my experience of Lent is from year to year.  Last year's journey was very definitely about stewardship, discipline and self-control.  This year?  This year seems to be mostly about grace.

It's everywhere.

One of the benefits to leading the devotional study our church is doing for Lent is that I am most definitely in God's Word on a daily basis.  There is a LOT of Scripture in the daily lectionary we're following - and I'm reading all of it, every day.  And the one thing that is becoming clear as I'm reading is the pervasiveness of God's grace.  Every single set of readings thus far has pointed me to grace.

I don't know how long I've actually been observing Lent on a yearly basis.  It's been a long time.  It usually consists of giving something up.  And in recent years, I've been pretty hard-core.  I've given up coffee, chocolate, bread, ice cream, anything with high fructose corn syrup in it, caffeine, etc. - or (to put it more positively) I've started eating healthier.  And I've been strict - oh, so strict! - about sticking to what I've set out for myself.

But this year - I haven't been that hard core about it.  All it turns out that I've really given up is coffee, and I actually gave that up before Lent, because as much as I love it, it was a healthier choice to give it up for a season.

I had good intentions when I started - and I have - for the most part - been a lot more healthy in my food choices.  But those no-bake cookies just sounded so awesome, and fountain Coke is so good...  and yes, on Thursday, I went through the drive-thru on the way home from rehearsal and got a double-cheeseburger.

But I prayed about it before I went, and I believe God said yes.

You see, a double-cheeseburger is WAY more than a double-cheeseburger to me.   It is one of the fastest entrances into Presence I know.  I realize it sounds silly, but there's a backstory to it, a good one - and I needed it.  At the end of a ridiculously long and emotionally trying day, a double-cheeseburger was exactly what I needed.  It fed my body and my soul.

Yes, it's Lent.  Yes, bread is on my personal no-no list.  But it's a man-made tradition, giving things up for Lent, not a biblical mandate, and I'm realizing, even as I joke about flunking Lent, that I probably should have prayed a little more before diving into this season about what God wanted to do in me through it.  I should have asked for more specific direction.

But there's grace for that, too - and so much freedom to make a course correction now.

So enough with legalism.  This year is about grace, and I am celebrating my freedom to pray daily about what to eat or not to eat in any given situation.  I am recognizing that it is completely okay that I don't have the emotional bandwidth to pursue a more disciplined fast right now - that maybe the time I'm putting into leading this study is the only sacrifice God really wanted from me this year.  And I am resting in the love and the grace of a God who loves me tremendously, and guides me as graciously as He does.

flunking Lent...


Obviously, once upon a time, there were a few more fries...

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, right?  ;)

random ramblings, vol. 7

This poor blog has been so neglected of late...  Time for a little bit of rambling, I think!  Maybe a few updates too.  So without further ado:

1.  I haven't actually not been blogging.  I have a half-dozen unpublished posts/ideas of posts that I would really like to finish at some point.  :)  Most of them about Sabbath and/or healing.  Stay tuned - one of these days I really will finish writing them!

2.  I am craving bacon and feta cheese at the moment.  Actually, craving might be an understatement...

3.  The Lenten Daily Devotional Study that I'm doing with my church is going really well.  I think I'm glad in retrospect that we didn't try to do the Lenten Supper thing along with it - as awesome as that would have been, it would have been one thing too many this spring.  But the devotional itself has been getting a lot of good press - and in fact, morphed from being an email sent to people on a daily basis to also being posted on our pastor's blog.  If you're interested in joining us, you can hop in at any time here.

4.  Spring is finally springing.  Can I just tell you how happy this makes me?  I spent part of my Sabbath on Saturday walking in the woods, and it was wonderful.

5.  After a few adventures (I believe it might have gone pseudo-missing at least twice), the podcast from the sermon I preached in February is finally up!  :)  There are a few little audio blips (sorry about that) - but most of the message made it!

6.  I stayed up ridiculously late last night, finishing Robin McKinley's new book, Pegasus.  The first couple of chapters were a little slow, but once I got into it, I could hardly put it down.  It is an incredible, well-written, beautiful and insightful story.   The protagonist is probably one of my new favorite characters ever.   I really hope there's going to be a sequel, tho, and soon!  The ending was terrible.  Not unexpected - but still.  I kept waiting for the last-minute save, and it never happened.  :(

7.  I also bought Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins.  Definitely looking forward to reading it this week!  I intended to read it on Saturday, but I started Pegasus first.  And that was the end of that plan...  :)

joy in the wilderness: a closer look at Lent

Forty days is a long time.

Almost 6 weeks.

But they could be forty of the most significant days of your life.

There are some days in life that you really wouldn't write home about.  But then there are seasons like these:

 - "And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights." (Genesis 7:12) - Noah

- "When I went up on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord had made with you, I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water." (Deuteronomy 9:9) - Moses

- "For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand." (1 Samuel 17:16) - right before David showed up with his slingshot

- "....he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God." (1 Kings 19:8) - Elijah

- "Jonah began by going a day's journey into the city, proclaiming, 'Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.'" - (Jonah 3:4) - but all in the city of Nineveh repented during that time instead

And then there was Jesus:

"...for forty days He was tempted by the devil.  He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them He was hungry." (Luke 4:2)

"After His suffering, He presented Himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive.  He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:3)

Forty days can be amazingly significant.

For centuries, the Church has celebrated (yes, celebrated! ) a season called Lent.  Lent is the 40 (actually 47) days before Easter, beginning today, Ash Wednesday.  It is a season of repentance, a season of wilderness wandering, a season of remembering that without Christ we would still be completely lost and dead in our sin - and celebrating (on those seven extra days especially!) the reality that our sin has been forgiven, our debt has been paid, and we have - if we've proclaimed Jesus as our Lord and Saviour - been made right with God.

6 days of repentance.  1 day of celebrating.  6 days of repentance.  1 day of celebrating.  (etc.)  - until Good Friday - the darkest day of the Christian year - gives way to the glorious light of Easter Sunday.

The idea of fasting during Lent might be totally new to some of us, but many of us have either come from or heard of traditions that encourage "giving up" something for Lent.  If you're tempted to do it just because you think you "ought" to - I'd challenge you to go ahead and give up something anyway - but re-evaluate why you're doing it.  Fasting is a very appropriate form of worship and repentance - but God makes it clear in Isaiah 58 that the state of our hearts when we fast is what matters to Him.

Fasting alone isn't enough.  It's just a ritual, empty of meaning, if we're not bringing our hearts into our activity.  But if we give up something we love - be it television, social media, or some sort of food - for Lent, and we do it as an act of worship, and seek Him instead...  Well.  Just imagine what could happen.  (Read Isaiah 58!)

The next 47 days of your life are packed with promise.

Are you willing to journey with Him through them?  Are you willing to take a good hard look at your own sin and repent for it?  And are you ready to receive a new revelation of the depth, height, breadth, and length of His grace?  Because this is what we celebrate, as we willingly enter a season of wilderness, fasting from things we could have but choose not to, because we know there's something so much better on the other side of this season, if we will wait on Him for it...


If you'd like to explore this season of Lent a little more intentionally, or even just add a little more structure to your quiet times, we would love for you to join us in a daily online devotional study from now until Easter Sunday.  We'll send you an email every day with a list of suggested Scripture readings and a devotional thought for the day.  To sign up, just email me at happy (at) torchchurch (dot) tv.

(cross-posted on the pastor's blog at www.torchchurch.tv)