Archive for February, 2016

What is the Getting in the Way?

February 1, 2016

What is getting in the way of your relationship with God? When you look at your life, can you identify anything that is keeping you from growing closer to God? Are you aware of anything that keeps dragging you down? Is there some persistent temptation that keeps tripping you up?

Going back to about 325 AD, the church decided to come up with a special time in the year to encourage people to eliminate the bad habits in their lives, and focus on developing spiritual habits that would draw them closer to God. They came up with what is now known as the season of Lent. Lent is the forty days (not counting Sundays) leading up to Easter Sunday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word “lencten” which means “spring”. The season of forty days was based on the story of Jesus in Matthew 4 where he goes into the wilderness for forty days, and defeats the temptations of the devil, which prepares Him to begin His ministry.

Based on this story, Lent was designed to be a time of fasting and repentance. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. It is a time of self-denial, moderation, and the forsaking of sinful activities. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism.

The day before Lent begins is called Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras. People saw it as their last chance to party before beginning a long season of fasting and celebration. On Mardi Gras, some people engage in the very activities that the Bible calls us to turn away from. This actually makes no sense, if one is really serious about giving up what is getting in the way of a closer walk with God.

The first day of the Lenten season is called Ash Wednesday. It is called the Day of Ashes because of the practice of rubbing ashes on one’s forehead in the sign of a cross. The words from Genesis 3:19 are spoken: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” While the Bible does not mention Ash Wednesday, it does record accounts of people in the Old Testament using dust and ashes as symbols of repentance and/or mourning (2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1, Job 2:8, Daniel 9:3). The practice of rubbing a cross on a person’s forehead with ashes is a physical sign that a person is turning away from sin and identifying with Christ.

Many Christians will make personal vows of abstinence during Lent, which could include anything from eating candy to meat to junk food. Some will choose to abstain from sex, alcohol, TV, or the internet. While some choose to stop doing what they shouldn’t, others choose to start doing what they should. Some people will choose to volunteer in their community or work for social justice. Some will choose to spend more time in prayer and reflection. It is a time to focus on eliminating what is keeping you from growing closer to God and developing new spiritual habits that will strengthen your faith.

It is an opportunity to change what we ought to change, but have not. Lent is about becoming. Lent is about doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now. Lent is a summons to live life in a new way, a better way, a healthier way.

For some, Lent had become an old tradition that they didn’t understand or had lost its meaning. But some are re-discovering it as helpful spiritual practice. We live in a culture that celebrates excess, breaking rules, and being selfish. We live in a culture that encourages selfishness, no self -control, and the pursuit of pleasure. But, some have found hedonism to be lacking, unsatisfying, and full of empty promises. Some have been hurt, abused, and damaged in the process. Some are recovering the call of the scriptures to turn away from the hollow temptations of the world which do not satisfy the deepest longings of our souls. Some who are looking for a better way are returning to a spiritual approach to discover what is missing.

Sometimes the best answers are the oldest answers. Sometimes the wisest path is not the new path that no one has ever walked, but the most ancient path, that millions before us have found to be the way to go. Sometimes under layers of dead tradition, we discover a lively, vibrant, healthy lifestyle that leads us back to the truth, and we wonder why we have missed it all these years.

Sometimes what the world presents to us as fun is really just destructive sin that rips apart people’s lives. The Bible continually calls us to open our eyes to see the truth that God puts around us every day. The scriptures keep inviting us to open our ears to hear the voice of God that speaks to us every day. God’s Word keeps nudging us to turn away from what is ruining our lives, and turn to habits and practices that actually give life.

Lent can help us do that. It’s an old idea that is becoming more relevant all the time. If you have never paid much attention to Lent, this might be the year to take a look at it. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on February 10th. If you are looking for an excuse to cut something bad out of your life, and start something good, this is a good time to get started.