Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Depending on your Christian tradition, you may have left a solemn service with a cross of ashes on you head or the day slipped by without a thought about it. Many denominations join the church from throughout the ages to observe this holy day and kick-start forty days of self-examination and repentance in preparation for joyous celebration on Easter morning.
I don't remember attending services in my youth or hearing many folks talk about Lent, except for my Catholic friends who mostly gave up chocolate for the duration. I was glad I didn't have to do that!
As I have learned more about Lent in my grown-er-up years, the more I love when the season arrives. Such an invitation is offered to us! We are beckoned in to be brave, look at our characteristic sins, take seriously the depth of the damage they cause, confess them, and move toward God through His healing and transformation. His healing and transformation!
Last night at our service, there was an insert in the bulletin that began with these words:
Ash Wednesday and Lent offer us an opportunity to 'go subterranean.' That is, these times in the Church Calendar bring to our attention the monstrous things that often lurk in the dark basements of our lives -- things we'd rather bury than confess.
Ash Wednesday and Lent help us to excavate these crippling sources of harm and then bring them into the light of God's mercy and healing. I invite you to accept the rather heavy Lenten invitation to 'go subterranean' with us. ... (emphasis mine)
I want to pass on to you the invitation to 'go subterranean,' too! Scriptures says that when we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If you are in Christ, already your place is secure before the throne of God. You are His kid! (John 1:12-13) But Lent offers us the opportunity to GROW! As our pastor outlined in his sermon last night, we remember, we return, we obey, and we draw near to God.
Strange, isn't it, that examining the darkest places of our hearts can strengthen our relationship with the God we offend? And yet, only doing so in His presence and with His Spirit at work in us, can we find any freedom or hope!
Here are some resources you might find helpful in this season:
- Your Bible I think this is your first and best option for drawing near to God! Each of the Gospels is around 20 chapters. You can read a chapter every two days during lent, or read through the Gospel twice during lent. The Word of God is living and active, it is one huge way we get to know God. Perhaps rather than giving up, you can add daily Scripture reading to your days this Lent.
- On Keeping a Holy Lent This is a pamphlet by a fellow named Craig R. Higgins. You can find it here, and you will not be disappointed. Learn more about the history of Lent and a series of questions to challenge you in the exercise of repentance in this season. I also wrote about the pamphlet once, and you can read that here.
- Respectable Sins That is the title of a book by Jerry Bridges that will rock your world. If you like books and you feel like you're not that big a sinner, this is a book for you! (And me!!) I might dust it off and give it a re-read this Lent. The subtitle is Confronting the Sins We Tolerate. Perfect for Lent, right? I think so to. You can pick it up from amazon. Looks like there's also a small group companion for it. Hey, you could start a small group during Lent, too! Just sayin'.
I know some of you probably have other Lenten resources to suggest; many local churches offer daily devotions. Feel free to suggest your favorites them in the comments.
Lent is not a season to become a "better Christian," to give up a vice for its own sake or to prove the strength of your will power, or to completely ignore because it's just some old ritual. Lent, as Higgins says, "isn't about giving up chocolate, it's about giving up sin!" And it "is the spiritual equivalent of an annual physical exam; it's a time to take stock of our lives, our hearts."
I pray that these days leading up to Easter, that glorious day, will be a time of God's blessing you in new and wonderful ways as you draw away from sin and near to Him! He is the one who heals and transforms!!
PS Sundays in Lent are days of feasting, not of fasting; they are not included in the 40 count. So if you are fasting from something for Lent, remember that Sundays are not included. Sundays are always the Lord's day, for celebration and feasting!