Category Archives: Lent

Preparing for Lent 2018

Lent image.jpg

This year Lent begins on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2018. If feels like Christmas just barely ended and now we are on to the second half of the wonderful story of God’s love for us all.

There is a misconception that Lent is only for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, however, I am pleased to inform everyone that Lent is celebrated and observed by believers from a variety of denominations.

Every year I make it clear to people that Lent is not about punishing yourself or making yourself miserable for 40 days. Lent is about joining Jesus in the desert to grow closer to God. Lent is an active way to remember that we are dependent on God for our spiritual strength and that despite having an abundance of material goods, nothing can satisfy our souls except God.

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.” Luke 4: 1-4

Jesus was never alone during those 40 days, the spirit of God was with him. When we struggle it may feel as if God is absent, and the lies we tell ourselves may lead to the belief that God has abandoned us, but that is not the nature of our Lord, he is with us always. The feeling of absence is called emotional and spiritual pain.

God doesn’t test us and we are told not to test him (Luke 4:7). “Testing” others is a form of manipulation and this type of behaviour has no place in a relationship, especially the one we have with God.

In the desert Jesus shows us how to respond to temptations and anything that enters our lives that threatens to remove God from being the most important in our lives; he shows us to respond with truth and the word of God.

For Lent 2018 I will be reading Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, by Trish Harrison Warren. I chose this book because I wanted to learn to be present to the presence of God in my daily, ordinary activities and interactions. And, if you’re wondering what I’m “giving up” for Lent, the answer is nothing. I decided that the words and obsession with “giving up” can easily lead us to focus too much on accomplishing a habitual goal instead of the spiritual experience of gaining a deeper relationship with God. During Lent I will intentionally engage in prayer walks. Walking is something I find deeply meditative and calming. I haven’t been walking much lately and I can see how it has affected my spiritual disciplines and prayer life. Winters in northern Canada can be brutal, and this year we’ve had a lot of snow, and this has been my reason for not doing much walking.

For those 40 days I will be doing daily prayer walks. What I’ve “given up” is idle time that is often spent on Netflix, going to the fridge or cupboard for snacks, Facebooking, or other activities that aren’t adding much to my life. The idea of Lent isn’t to give up things that are sinful or unhealthy for you (these things are best given up forever, not for a mere 40 days). The goal is to engage in increased prayer, reflection, and charitable giving or works.

However you chose to celebrate the love and redemption that God gives us, my hope is that it will bring you closer to him and provide a deeper understanding of the power and strength provided to us by his Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

The Shack and Lenten Lessons

 

The movie The Shack has been getting social media attention for both positive and negative reasons. There are those who see The Shack as a great movie about our relationship with God; and in the other camp are those who see the movie as blasphemous and theologically dangerous.

I recently watched The Shack and spent most of the time fighting back tears. The movie is based on the book of the same title written by Canadian author William P. Young. His book was controversial among a small number of Christians and now the movie is receiving similar reactions.

Personally, I don’t consider the book or the movie to be heretical; but it certainly is theological.  In its simplest form, The Shack gives us a visual of the complexities involved in a person’s relationship with God, Jesus, and the Spirit. We will never fully understand how the relationships between us as humans and God as divine fully operates. We were not designed to understand something so complex; something that takes place between a human and a non-human; here on earth and in another world that we have never seen (and may never see).

In my lifetime I’ve had too much experience dealing with Christians who always have the exact answers, those who can’t accept that parts of God’s being and actions will forever be a mystery to us. God never promised that we would understand everything, He only asked that we trust Him with what He has revealed to humans.

It’s the habit of humans to fill in the blanks where God has intentionally chosen to leave unknown. It’s as if one can’t stand not know something. We as a human race feel cheated by God and to deal with this we come up with answers and don’t allow them to be challenged for fear that our answers might be wrong. There are people more comfortable with a lie that doesn’t challenge them rather than a truth that challenges them.

I believe The Shack helps explain to Christians the complexity of dealing with the unseen and the unknown. Being a Christian doesn’t shield us from pain, it only helps protect us from allowing our pain to become bitterness, revengeful, hard hearted, and emotionally self-destructive. How we react to life’s circumstances has nothing to do with who God is, it is 100% about us as individuals and the choices we make.

The Shack is making some people uncomfortable because it is not human nature for us to be forgiving, loving, and kind to those who don’t make us feel all warm and fuzzy. The gospel teachings of Christ are difficult when you put them into action. Living out the gospel is a continuous cycle of learning and growth. During this lifelong process God is busy loving us, offering His grace, giving us mercy, and developing us into the persons He has designed us to be.

If you haven’t seen or read The Shack, I encourage you to prepare yourself beforehand by reading Jesus’ teachings and various parts of the Hebrew scriptures where God talks about His love for us and the forgiveness that comes along with it. This is important because God taught us His commandments about love and forgiveness, and Jesus lived it as an example for us to follow.

If you are uncomfortable with what God has taught us about love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and justice and how Jesus lived it; you will be uncomfortable with the theological concepts found in The Shack.

The Greatest Commandment Given

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 8: 28-34).

 

Reflection and Questions:

-What parts of The Shack resonated with you theologically?

-Do you believe it is possible to feel God’s presence in the midst of pain and suffering?

-Do you identify with the main character’s struggle to accept that God forgives people who have done really bad things to others?

-Were there any scenes or parts of the book where you think the author gave an inaccurate portrayal of God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit (breath)?

-Have you learned something new about the nature of God from either the book or the movie?

-Do you believe it is possible to be set free from generational sin (such as the example provided by the movie)? If yes, what are some ways one can be set free?

 

 

 

The Grace of Lent

We’re now one week into Lent. I consider myself successful so far. But I can’t get too excited, because Lent isn’t about success or failure. I’ve learned this week that Lent involves a lot of grace. In biblical Greek, the word for grace is ‘Charis” meaning; a gift or blessing; favour, gratitude and thanks.

God has a lot of grace for us, his human creation, but I also believe we have grace for God as well. I offer God grace by giving thanks for all He has done for me and others. I give him my grace because I continue to fail and falter at being all that He has created me to be, yet He still loves and cares for me. His grace is what allows me to offer Him grace.

 

St. Paul shared this experience with us, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 8-10).

 

He tells us that His gift to us is His power. We can withstand so much more with God’s divine power. We are wanting, wishing for, and maybe even missing what we’ve given up for Lent. We know that our Lenten sacrifices are temporary, but our other struggles might not be. With God, it’s not a matter of time. Whether the struggle is short lived or life long, He is asking us to accept that his Gift to us is sufficient. Our weaknesses are met with God’s power.

During Lent we are given the luxury of choosing our desert experience. Jesus didn’t get to choose his desert experience; it was handed to him and God allowed Jesus to decide how he would handle the struggle. Jesus showed us with his own life how to handle the difficulties that are part of our life. He accepted the gift offered by God and was victorious. God didn’t offer one gift to Jesus and a different gift to us; God offers the same gift to everyone. The differences lay in whether or not we choose to accept it.

 

Questions and Reflections:

What are some ways that God’s gift (grace) is present in your life?

Do you believe that the same gift that God gave to Jesus, He has given to the rest of us? Why or why not?

In what ways are you making use of the grace that God has given you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing for Lent 2017

 

Lent_Three Croses

This year Lent is March 1st to April 13, 2017. This is thee most important and spiritually focused period of the liturgical year. It’s also the time when some of us are most miserable. Sometimes you can easily tell who has given up their favourite foods and habits for Lent. Have you ever encountered the Starbucks coffee lover who is in desperate need of their daily 2 litres of straight black coffee, but is determined to make it through the 40 day period? Yeah, not a lovely experience.

What about the person who has given up Facebook for Lent? You discover they have given up Facebook when there is a sudden increase in texts and emails from them.

Did you notice the person who has given up beer for Lent? Friends start to notice this when the person begins to drink more wine and other adult beverages in lieu of beer.

So why am I making these borderline judgmental observations? Because, I’m annoyed by the cultural misunderstanding that we have about Lent.

In my lifetime I’ve certainly chosen random, meaningless, and spiritually empty things to give up during the season; but with each passing year I am learning more about the deeper meaning of Lent. I now realize that things I used to give up didn’t bring me any closer to identifying with Christ. These thoughtless acts didn’t help me grow in my faith.

For some people giving up items such as beer, chocolate, and coffee is very important. Giving up these luxuries and habits are a major victory over the material things in life that we become dependent on for happiness, meaning, and ability to live in peace with others.

Where I think some people miss a great opportunity for spiritual growth is when they take something away, but don’t replace it with something that will help them grow in their relationship with God. Giving up coffee and replacing it with tea, is a filler, but it’s not a time for growing unless you are intentional about it. An example of making the experience spiritual would be to use the money you would put towards coffee and donate it towards a cause that is important to you. Another idea might be praying each time you feel the need to get a coffee. When the urge hits you stop and pray to God for strength, recite a helpful verse, or engage in another spiritual activity that will help you.

These are only examples. We all lead different lives and this means how we choose to grow closer to God during Lent will look different for all of us.

If you want to get serious about Lent this year, below are some ideas and links to help get your started.

Lenten Symbols

Some Ideas on Ways to Prepare for Lent

Reading:

-The Gospels

-The parables of Christ

-Listen to the Gospels or parables of Christ on audio

-Choose a daily devotional to read each day

-Do a 4 week bible study to prepare for Easter

 

Prayer:

-Choose a specific topic to pray for (peace, oppressed women in other countries, persecuted Christians in other nations, poverty in your city, etc)

-Pray through verses in the bible

-Add additional prayer time (e.g. pray morning and evening, pray grace during all three meal times, try new styles of prayer, etc.)

 

Almsgiving:

Almsgiving is the spiritual act of giving money or food to the poor; almsgiving is also the act of providing something to someone in need for free without the expectation of anything in return.

-If you already give regularly to a charity or cause, give a little extra if you can. If extra money is not an option for you, consider giving extra by donating your time.

-Volunteer at a soup kitchen by helping to serve food during their Spring/Easter holiday meals

-Go through your clothing and household items, donate items that are still in good condition that you no longer need.

-Do you have skills and occupational experiences that are normally unaffordable to the average person or those without insurance. Consider providing your service for free to one or two people (e.g. Offer free message services to low income parents, offer a draw for a free meal at your restaurant, file someone’s taxes for free, shovel your neighbour’s sidewalk and driveway etc.).

 

Repentance:Engage in authentic soul searching during the 40 day period. This involves a lot of prayer, a lot of silence, and a lot of listening. Here are some resources to help you with this process.

Daily Examen

http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen

Intentionally Engage in Various Spiritual Disciplines

http://dallaswillardcenter.com/

Prayer

http://www.desiringgod.org/topics/prayer

https://www.intouchcanada.org/get-involved/pray

Fasting:

https://www.cru.org/train-and-grow/spiritual-growth/fasting/personal-guide-to-fasting.html

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/fasting-for-beginners

http://www.catholicgentleman.net/2014/04/spiritual-weapons-fasting/

 

General Ideas

https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/season-of-lent-40-ideas-to-get-the-most-out-of-it/

http://www.catholicallyear.com/2014/02/outside-box-66-things-to-give-up-or.html