Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Happy Lent!...?

Our church publishes a  newsletter several times a year.   The last one was for the new year, and featured a cover article that was downright depressing.  It lamented Roe V. Wade, the economy, the overall rebellion of our nation and its leaders against the revealed will of God, and then closed with, "Well, let's see what God has in store for us this year!"  It was written by our pastor, and let me just say, it was quite out of character for him.  He's a pretty upbeat guy normally.  However, the article wasn't properly attributed, so in my ignorance I complained about it in the staff meeting.  "Nothing says happy new year like the world going to hell in a handbasket!  Who wrote that depressing article anyways?"  I was promptly punished for my impertinence by being assigned to write something much more happy and encouraging for the next newsletter cover... to be published for Lent.  Right.  The most joyful time of the church year...  Well, the rest of this post is what I came up with:

Happy Lent, you poor, miserable, wretched, pitiful, blind, and spiritually naked sinners... like me!  Now, I know what you’re thinking:  What on earth is the word “happy” doing in that sentence?  What could possibly be so happy about Lent?  Well, once again we are embarking upon a period of the church year characterized by self denial, confession of sin, and everyone “thinking of ourselves with sober judgment,” as Romans 12:3 says.  The imagery we typically associate with these activities are anything but cheery.  Who wants to be happy about giving up sin, anyways?  Sin is what makes life fun!  Conversely, what could more gloomy that beating ourselves up for our failures?
I think there is a happy underside to lent.  This period of 40 days parallels the time that Jesus fasted in the desert before his temptation.  Indeed, the whole cycle of the Christian years is for the purpose of journeying together through the life of Christ.  Yet here we spend a good portion of our year remembering a relatively brief time of Christ’s life which only receives a verse or two in scripture.  The significance of this is that Christ, after a 40 day fast, was tempted at his weakest, and he was tempted for us.  He didn’t just die for our sins, he lived a perfect life in our place as well.  And in His temptation we see him making right what all men since Adam have done wrong by resisting the deceptive lure of Satan.  Now there’s a happy thought!  And yet, Jesus is still about the work of setting things right, inviting us to come alongside Him in the fight.
As we go about the business of following Christ’s example to fight temptation, remember His words:  “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:30)  Discipleship isn’t always a bed of roses, but the cross that Christ gives us is better than the burden of sin.  God’s law draws for us the perfect picture of what is expected, and it is a powerful tool for self examination.  It works as a powerful mirror into our lives to expose our shortcomings.  But the last thing I want to encourage is for us all to turn inward, with pseudo-penitential navel-gazing attempts to better ourselves.  Instead, consider this:  Jesus lived a perfect life in full conformity to God’s holy law.  Sometimes, it is hard for us to imagine what that might look like.  Quite frankly, Jesus didn’t just submit to God’s law, he loved it, with all his heart.  Perhaps the reason we fall short is because our hearts do not desire the things that God commands.  
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, and a hymn of praise to the wonders of God’s law.  As such, it is an excellent tool for us to pray when we find ourselves desiring wrong.  Through a consistent use of this Psalm, God’s Word can begin to bring our hearts into conformity with the heart of Christ.  In lieu of fasting or other penitential practices, consider adding this Psalm to your devotional discipline by reading an eight verse section of it whenever you take time to pray.  This lent, instead of beating ourselves with the scourge of the law, let us gaze intently into it with this question in our minds:  What was Jesus like?  The most joyful thing about lent is when we use it as an opportunity to grow in our personal knowledge of Jesus. 

End article.  I leave you with a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier:

I bow my forehead to the dust, I veil my eyes for shame,
And urge, in trembling self distrust, A prayer without a claim.
I see the wrong that round me lies; I feel the guilt within
I hear the groaning and suffering, The world confess its sin
Yet in the maddening maze of things, And tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed stake my spirit clings; I know that God is good.
I know not what the future has Of marvel or surprise,
Assured alone that life and death His mercy underlies.
And if my heart and flesh are weak To bear an untried pain,
My bruised soul He will not break, But strengthen and sustain.
And so I drift alone at sea, And though I have no oar;
No harm from Him can come to me On ocean or on shore.
I know not where my journey ends, beneath His heavy stare
I only know I cannot drift, Beyond His love and care.

No comments:

Post a Comment