Growing up as a Methodist Christian, I experienced Lent as little more than a joke. “What are you giving up for Lent?” my friends would ask. “Homework,” I’d say with a smirk, or “Obeying my parents.”
I had one Methodist Pastor who always replied" I am giving up watermelon for Lent".
My family would be visiting our Roman Catholic friends who were in the Boy Scout troop with us and it was always on a Sunday afternoon so the host family could serve "treats" (pastries & such) since it was allowed on Sunday, or after midnight Saturday evening going into Sunday ...whew after midnight...!
Lent was one of those peculiar practices demanded of Roman Catholics – another great reason to be Protestant, I figured.
It never even occurred to me that Lent was something I might actually be interested in, or benefit from, or decide to keep, or come to value as a way of getting to know God better.
In the ancient church, Lent was a time for new converts to be instructed for baptism and for believers caught in sin to focus on repentance. In time, all Christians came to see Lent as a season to be reminded of their need for penitence and to prepare spiritually for the celebration of Easter.
Part of this preparation involved the Lenten “fast,” giving up something special during the six weeks of Lent (but not on Sundays, in some traditions as I have said.)
Historically, many Protestants rejected the practice of Lent, pointing out, truly, that it was nowhere required in Scripture. Some of these Protestants were also the ones who refused to celebrate Christmas, by the way!
They wanted to avoid some of the excessive aspects of Catholic penitence that tended to obscure the gospel of grace.
These Protestants saw Lent, at best, as something completely optional for believers, and, at worst, as a superfluous Catholic practice that true believers should avoid altogether.
A Pastoral Word: Let me note, at this point, that if you think of Lent as a season to earn God’s favor by your good intentions or good works, then you’ve got a theological problem. God’s grace has been fully given to us in Christ. We can’t earn it by doing extra things or by giving up certain other things in fasting.
If you see Lent as a time to make yourself more worthy for celebrating Good Friday and Easter,
then perhaps you shouldn’t keep the season until you’ve grown in your understanding of grace.
If, on the contrary, you see Lent as a time to grow more deeply in God’s grace and wisdom, then you’re approaching Lent from a proper perspective.
Some segments of Protestantism did continue to recognize a season of preparation for Easter, however. Their emphasis was not so much on penitence and fasting as on intentional devotion to God.
Protestant churches sometimes added special Lenten Bible studies or prayer meetings so that their members would be primed for a deeper experience of Good Friday and Easter.
Lent was a season to do something extra for God, not to give something up unless it is to grow in Christ, that's the extra part.
Sometimes I’ve given up something, like watching television or eating potato chips, in order to devote more time to Bible study and prayer. (A television fast was not that tough because there is so little on TV these days worth watching, with the exception of maybe Me TV channel 67 which has the old TV shows.)
Sometimes I’ve added extra devotional reading to my regular spiritual disciplines. I can claim to have had some spiritual experiences during Lent, such as wisdom in the scriptures, but I have found that fasting from something has helped me focus on God, and it has also helped center my prayer life.
It has also helped me to look ahead to Good Friday and Easter, thus appreciating more deeply the meaning of the cross and the victory of the resurrection.
There is Hope in the Resurrection of our Lord & Savior Jesus the Christ.
~ Pastor Jim
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Walter D. Wagoner tells a story about a children's Sunday School class that decided to play church.
So they all took part,... they had a minister, ushers, offertory, choir, organist and all. After a while they tired of playing the game, as children will, and wanted to change it.
One boy said, "I know, let's play Jesus." Well, that was a new one for the group and it sounded great....
At first everyone wanted to play the part of Jesus.
They each felt they were qualified because anytime the pastor asked a question during children’s moments they always knew the answer. “Jesus”.
However, when the other children asked the boy to explain the game, he said that one boy would play Jesus and the rest would be mean to him, call him names, strike him, spit at him, tie him to a tree, and pretend to crucify him.
That took a bit of the glow off the honor of playing Jesus, but the children went on with the game.
After a few minutes of absorbing the cruelty of the other children, (sinful nature) the boy playing the part of Jesus called a halt to it and in so doing uttered a profound statement....
He said, "Let's not play Jesus anymore, let's go back to playing church."
Do you think that sometimes our churches – Play at being Church?
That shoe fits so tight, it hurts, doesn't it? "Let's not play Jesus anymore, Let’s not be obedient to the Father’s will as Jesus was, Let’s not even try to live the holy life that pleases The Father and follows the inspired words of the Old and New Testament. Let's go back to playing church....
"We are, all of us, painfully aware that there is a difference and we also know that the difference is deadly. Playing church or playing Jesus?
Unified and reconciled to God and God’s ways or to the world’s ways?
Are we serious about it or are we playing at it? Do we recognize that we are sinners against God, in desperate need of reconciliation and salvation?
Not just as individuals but also collectively as a church.
Are we in need of reconciliation, salvation, renewal?
Only thru Jesus Christ can we bridge the divide and be unified with God as his children and heirs to an eternal life in heaven.
But how do we move from playing church - to playing Jesus - to truly being the disciples we are called to be and the church we are called to be? We know that we are to be Jesus to our world. But how? Where do we begin? We begin by acknowledging who we are.
We are the body of Jesus Christ. We are the temple of the living God.
The Apostle Paul addresses the same issue in his letter to the Corinthian church. He writes: "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?"
Folks we are not just a social justice group like the Moose or the Elks, we are not political activists group; we are not just a food pantry or an aid relief society.
We are a holy temple. We are God’s holy temple; we are God’s church in need of renewal that seeks Unity with God’s plan.
Whenever ancient Israel or the church has forgotten who it is, it has lost its vitality!
Our strength can be renewed when we are rooted in our dependence upon God.
Jesus boiled it down for us, when he was asked, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.
And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Unfortunately, some churches choose to define these to fit their (worldly) needs instead of letting Holy Scripture in its entirety be the determiner of God’s intent, plan and wishes for his people.
When we stop Playing church and start truly following Jesus the Messiah then we can seek God with our whole heart, soul and mind.
Folks, I ask each member of this congregation to start a prayer session each day to pray for the Body of Christ in this church, you choose the topic, wisdom, growth, spiritual witness, outreach in HIS name, etc.
Pray individually or even better start a prayer group with friends who meet on a regular basis to "break bread" and pray, this is what Wesley called "Bands" prayer groups dedicated to uplifting of prayer each & every day.
In the name of our Lord & Savior Jesus the Christ, Pastor Jim
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