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Renewal and Recommitment

Not to brag but I was a good child. It was rare and out of character for me to get in trouble. I was far from perfect. One thing you could count on; however, I would tell on myself long before anyone would discover my childish deeds. While my family believed in spanking, it was not a deterrent to keep me from doing things.

My grandma knew exactly how to punish me in a way that cut me to the core. One of the things I grew to admire about her was she raised seven children (5 of her own and then me and my sister - her grandchildren.) She never tried to pigeonhole us or make us copies of one another. She encouraged us to be individuals and as such, she knew what it took to reach us as unique individuals. She knew when it came to me, yelling, spanking and grounding would not yield the results they would with her other children. With me, she would simply stop, very calmly and in a quiet voice look at me and say something like, "I expected better from you. You disappointed me. I want you to think about what you have done. You have hurt me (or so in so) did you know that? I hope you keep that in mind." Wow! I'd rather take a beating. No, grandma. I did not mean to. Please don't be mad. I'll do anything to make it up to you. I will NEVER do it again.

Unlike other children, that was all it took. I would think about it. I would mull it over and over and over. It hurt me to no end knowing I hurt and disappointed my grandma. I let her down. I knew better. I chose to do it anyway. Why did I do it? How can I make sure I do not do it again? I would cry and truly ask forgiveness which grandma would always give. She would ask me what I planned to do about it (later I learned this was to ensure I understood the root of the matter and to make sure I followed through with my repentance because after all, true repentance is not just words, it is action.)

I am sure you are asking yourself what does this have to do with anything? Glad you asked. Did you know the season of Lent started this week? Lent is season some know about, participate in, mock, reference and some simply have no clue about. Wherever you lie on the spectrum, it is something, as a Christian, it bears, at least, a basic knowledge of.

Lent is most often associated with Catholics; however, many Eastern and Protestant denominations observe Lent. Lent is the 40 days (actually 46 calendar days as Sundays are days that do not count in the day count) leading up to Easter and starts on Ash Wednesday. Lent was established initially for new Christians, those who experienced a call. They were to spend 40 days and 40 nights preparing for their baptism. If, in the end, they still wanted to follow Jesus, then on Easter Eve, they would be baptized as the sun was rising in the east, signaling the new day, the new era, inaugurated because of the Resurrection. The powerful significance for them was to prepare for their vocation as Christians the same way Jesus prepared for His vocation as the Messiah: 40 days of introspection and self-examination. Later the church used the 40 days of Lent as a time of renewal for those who were already Christians. Lent was used as a time of renewal and recommitment to the Christian life, examining our lives in light of the One we are supposed to follow. During Lent, the focus should rest on three main principles: fasting, praying and charity. The traditions of Lent prepare our hearts, in a calm, hopeful way, for the renewal of faith celebrated Easter morning. It is a time to set aside our wants and needs to come humbly and meek before God, recognizing our need for a Savior above all. Lent is meant to be a time of repentance. That’s not a feeling of shame but an awareness that sin separates us from God and of what it cost Him to be reunited with us. It is a time of renewal and recommitment.

Why fasting, prayer and charity? It is actually quite simple. Remember the reason Lent was initially established? 40 days. Why 40 days? 40 days has a Biblical significance in several places but in this case, there is a specific reason.

"Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." Matthew 4:1 (KJV)

How long was Jesus in the wilderness? 40 days and 40 nights. Hence, the 40 days. During this time, Jesus fasted from food. He was weak, physically. The enemy knew this when he approached our Savior.

There were 3 temptations Jesus was presented with:

  1. "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Matthew 4: 3-4 (KJV)

  2. "And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." Matthew 4:6-7 (KJV)

  3. "And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. " Matthew 4:9-10 (KJV)

Translate into the principles of Lent:

  1. Fasting: Jesus was hungry. Could He have turned the stones into bread? Yes. Did He? No. Why? Fasting takes discipline. The Bible describes a fast in several places. It is not to be done for selfish reasons or to lose weight. A genuine Biblical fast can literally "move the hand of God." Fasting during Lent doesn't have to be limited to food. It can also take the form of resisting certain activities, giving up on a supposed need. It should be something that requires sacrifice and dependency on God. It must take effort and restraint. It must be done for the right reasons. It must be done with a joyful heart. Jesus could have turned the stone to bread. He did not. He demonstrated discipline and obedience to God.

  2. Praying: Satan wanted Jesus to test God by throwing Himself off the cliff so God would be "forced" to send angels to rescue Him in a show of His power. This is more true if Jesus called out to God to make it so. So often when we pray, we are tempted to do the same. "Lord, if you are real, show me a sign." "God, your word says... so prove it by doing..." During Lent, our prayers are to be as Jesus' example and be more "God centered" not us centered. We should be striving to realize that walking with God is a relationship to be cultivated not on-call, on demand because I asked. Taking risks and not heeding the voice of the Holy Spirit is not the way to live our Christian life. Lent is a time for quiet reflection and inward reflection where we listen, recalibrate our hearing to the voice of God and the Holy Spirit and revigorate our nonchalant prayer life.

  3. Giving: Jesus was worn down, hungry, tired, had faced two temptations already and although He was fully God, He was also fully human. Satan told him just bow. All of this could be yours. All of this is over. Just bow to me. Jesus could have given in to the temptation of riches, luxury and more. Even amidst of it all, He said no. Even in His suffering and more than likely less than clear thinking, He chose not to take the easy way out for the human part of His condition. During Lent, we are called to mirror this. We are to avoid the temptation of riches and overindulgence. Give more, volunteer, find a special charity and help others. It’s called sacrifice. Think of the sacrifices Jesus made in the wilderness and focus on the ultimate sacrifice on Good Friday. That is ultimately what Lent is about.

Whether you are part of a church that recognizes Lent as a corporate body or not, it is a season all Christians can take time to give pause to. Some may argue, "Isn't that something you should be doing all the time?" My first response to them is, "Do you?" I also like to compare it to an annual physical. You get one whether you are in good health or bad health, yes? It doesn't stop you from doing things throughout the year you need to do to be healthy, does it? Eat right, exercise, go to the doctor when you are sick, etc. But the annual physical is just a little different. This is no different.

For me, it is personal. Its a lot like my childhood and lessons learned from grandma. When I was a child, I did in fact, "think" about what I had done. I never wanted to disappoint her. During these 40 days, I approach the Throne of Grace with repentance in my heart. What have I done to disappoint God? How can I be better to others? Do I actively remember the sacrifices made for me? Am I truly grateful that the punishment I should receive was taken by Jesus and nailed on the cross? In the noise of the world, do I take the time to sit, be still and know He is? I can write about it, share it, teach it but do I live it? I shed tears. I listen. God wraps me in His arms and He reminds me of many things. I am not a disappointment. I have punished myself long enough. I am worthy of His Grace. I am His child. I may fall short at times but I am redeemed. If you get nothing out of this journey, isn't it worth that?

As we start our Lenten journey, what are you doing to renew and recommit yourself to your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? No, you do not have to participate in anything remotely associated with Lent. As a Christian; however, you have to be actively seeking Him and cultivating your relationship. You also need to remember faith without works is dead. When you pray, if you pray, do you pray with a pure heart or do you pray so others know? Do you pray expecting God to jump at your commands? When you pray, do you remember to listen? Most importantly, when you pray, are you willing to move your feet? When was the last time you were willing to make any sacrifice for God? Do you expect God to sacrifice for you? Do you actively seek His face and are willing to do whatever it takes to remove barriers between you and Him? Do you see a need and blindly turn your head? When was the last time you gave (money, your time or your talent) to something or a cause? Do you feel the need to brag about it when you do or can you just do it? When the Holy Spirit speaks to you, do you heed or do you ignore it? Do you even know when the Spirit is talking to you? My friends, if you cannot answer these questions, it is time to renew your faith! It is time to recommit yourself to that which you claim to cling to! It is not to late. You do not need Lent to do it. While we are here, why not seize the opportunity to get started?

Over the next several weeks, we will spend some time together looking at ways to approach fasting, prayer, charity and the Christian character. We will also look into facets of events leading up to the crucifixion and the resurrection. Will you join me?

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