If your childhood was anything like mine, you must remember your parents, your Sunday school teachers, or maybe other children talking about giving up something for Lent.
Of course giving up something for Lent is not a bad practice if it reminds us of the journey that Jesus, our Lord and Perfect Example took into the wilderness just before He began His earthly ministry; if the practice of giving something up helps us to focus on the ministries that God has set before each of us in our individual lives and together as people of faith.
But this year, I’d like to suggest something just a little bit different and perhaps just a touch unprecedented as we move towards the season of Lent. And why not? 2010 will be in many ways a year of unprecedented change - change that we will successfully meet only by drinking in a full measure of God’s Holy Spirit. For Lent 2010, I would respectfully suggest that we consider adding some things rather than giving things up.Odd as that may sound, it makes sense from the perspective of our role as disciples – that is to say devoted followers of Christ. Now there were times Jesus asked his followers, or in some cases would-be followers, to give some things up – the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ comes to mind (Luke 18:18-23). Jesus asked that ‘almost disciple’ to give up everything – everything that is that would get in the way of his following after Jesus. And Jesus has Peter and Andrew leave their fishing nets to follow Him, (Matthew 4:20) which I suppose isn’t nearly as drastic as when just a little further on up the road He has James and John leave not only their nets and boat but their father as well. (Matthew 4:22)
But far more than the times that Jesus would have His followers leave something behind or otherwise excise that thing from their lives, Jesus above all else wants to add to their lives; wants them to take up things, do things, and be things they had never been before. Just to name a few, Jesus wants His followers – and with all my heart I believe that includes us at First Church in Orange – to ADD these things to their lives:- A New Commandment to love as we have been loved. (John 13:34)- A Cross that we must take up as we follow Him (Mark 8:34)- His Words – the very Words of Eternal Life (John 6:68)
- His own Body and Blood broken and Shed for our redemption (Mark 14:22)
- The Comforter, that is, the Holy Spirit (John 15:26)
- The Peace which the world cannot give (John 14:27)
Perhaps I am somewhat loathe to talk up giving things up for Lent this year because, not at all in the back of my mind, but rather very much in the foreground, is the knowledge that too soon we will all feel like we are giving up something very precious to us. By now those of you who know me, know that I have tended to be very blunt about our temporal situation at First Church. I guess I’ve never been a ‘sugar coating’ sort of person. Hopefully I’ve been able to speak with at least as much alacrity about our spiritual condition as members of the Church which can never close its doors, never run out of resources, and never fade into history: that Church which is the whole Body of Christ. I know that not everyone likes bluntness. Truthfully, a lot of the time I don’t like it myself all that much. But with characteristic bluntness I will nonetheless tell you that to meet the days ahead there are surely things that we need to ADD to our lives, not just for Lent but for all the days the Lord grants us going forward. I believe we need to pick up and fasten these things to our being. In the words of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:10-18) we will need:
- The Whole Armor of God, for we are ultimately not fighting a battle against changing times or demographics or even the lack of resources. Our real battle is with forces unseen that are trying to tell us we have no business sharing the life saving Gospel in the town of Orange.
- The Belt of Truth, for in the weeks and months that are to come the temptation will be to attempt to affix blame on others our past or ourselves. The very first sin the Bible records was immediately accompanied by blame, (Genesis 3:12) half truths and outright lies.
- The Breastplate of Righteousness. In the face of loss it is easy to lash out in anger and even to dream of petty vengeances. But such is not our call. Such will serve no Godly purpose and ultimately not even provide emotional satisfaction.
- The Shield of Faith. We have come this far by faith, faith will see us home – especially with the remembrance that our true home is of the Lord’s making.
- The Helmet of Salvation. The greatest gift of all. The gift that reminds us that in Christ there are no losses. We are united with the saints that have gone before and to paraphrase a famous hymn, we shall be together with the Lord.- The Sword of the Spirit. This is the only ‘offensive’ weapon Jesus would have us take up. But what a weapon it is, for before It, all the powers of darkness fall.
As we enter the season of Lent, let us fix our eyes upon the bright days of New Life that Christ has promised: New Life promised not only in the age to come but for each individual believer, here in the world in which Christ has placed us for the purpose of ADDING His gifts to our lives.