Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which signals the beginning of Lent. For those who don’t know, Lent is the 40-day time period leading up to Easter Sunday. (In reality, it’s 45 days because Sundays are still supposed to be observed as a Sabbath.) Interestingly enough, Lent is not a tradition we find in the bible, but it was created by the church to help Christ-followers to prepare for Easter, and remind us Christians of the life and sacrifice of Jesus—specifically his 40-day fasting and temptation in the desert before he began his public ministry. (Read Luke 4:1-13 to get the whole story of that encounter.) Traditionally, Christians would fast daily until sundown, and they would give up all forms of meat–except for fish–on Fridays.
Lent is often perceived as a time of grueling self-sacrifice due to the whole fasting until sundown thing. Today, however, most of us just give up coffee or sweets. Tough life. Occasionally, though, Lent is taken as a more serious opportunity to combat habits like excessive consumption of food or alcohol, an addiction to pornography, or excessive spending of money. Whatever one decides, the goal behind the sacrifice is to prompt a time of prayer whenever you find yourself tempted to indulge in these activities. (e.g. If you normally go get a coffee at 10 am on Mondays, instead of buying a coffee, you spend those 15 minutes praying and reading scripture. Repeat as often as you get coffee.) It’s funny–well, kind of sad actually–but in my experience most people hear this challenge and are immediately intimidated by the idea of going without coffee for that long. Some people are legitimately addicted to coffee, and would be straight-up jerks for 40 days if they gave it up. To all of you who are in this position: by all means, keep drinkin’ the jo. I think Jesus would rather have us be able to love the people around us than try to observe Lent and be hurtful.
HERE’S AN IDEA, though. Lent doesn’t have to just be a somber time of sacrifice. It can also be a time of devoting ourselves to some new or different practice that also reminds us of Jesus. For example, I am a person who connects with God through music. So for lent last year, I decided to pick up learning how to play piano. I did my best to devote at least 30 minutes a day to sitting down and studying some aspect of the piano. Instead of dreading my bible and prayer time because it was a reminder of not being able to have something that I wanted, I looked forward to it because I was finally doing something that I had wanted to do for a while. Maybe for you this means getting into running or learning to crochet. The only suggestion I have is that it be something you can do while praying.
Now, to the people out there who are thinking, “Well, that’s not truly observing Lent because we are supposed to suffer like Jesus did,” I have news for you: WE ARE NOT JESUS. If you really want to be traditional with it, though, go ahead and give something up. I am all for challenging ourselves.
In fact, here is my challenge to you: Think of something you want to pick up over this season of Lent. Plan out when and where you will engage this activity, and try to do it at a time of day when you are most likely to follow through. For most of us, this means not late at night or early in the morning. Give God your best time of the day. He deserves it.
Also, if you are someone who struggles with a more serious problem, like an addiction to pornography, alcohol, or excessive spending, it’s time to start working on it. I encourage you to take Lent as an opportunity to invite God and your community into these areas of your life. Find someone you can talk to about it. Make plans to avoid putting yourself in situations where you often fail, and, most importantly, when you find yourself wanting to engage in these activities, PRAY. Ask God to help you resist giving in. And have grace with yourself. You’re not perfect. Yet.
Finally, let me know how it goes. Leave a comment.
Chris Sherman, UMin Student Leadership Coordinator
Does God notice us? In the grand scheme of the world, do our lives even matter? What do we do when we find everything in our life seems to be on shaky ground?
Like the past couple of posts, this one focuses on a Christmas song… Only we don’t know the tune, so we can’t sing along and I can’t post a YouTube of it. The song is known on some playlists as The Magnificat and it belongs to Mary. She writes it after her world is turned upside-down; an angel has just told her she will give birth to the son of God. She is an unwed virgin; what will people think? Elizabeth, who also finds herself unexpectedly pregnant credits Mary’s faith and Mary’s response is poetic.
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
“He has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” God notices us.
Sometimes, reflecting on one’s own life feels so… selfish. So narcissistic. And don’t get me wrong, in this age of updating facebook statuses and seeking to get noticed not just on campus but on twitter, narcissism has never been easier to attain. But I admit that lately I’ve been thinking about my own life a lot and sometimes I wonder where the line of navel-gazing is. When does introspection become unhealthy for the introspector and those in his or her life? I think a recent sermon by Dave Rohrer (12/4/11) provided some clarity on this point.
As Dave dissected the Magnificat, he pointed out that God notices. The details of our lives are important to God and worthy of thought and effort. This is Psalm 8: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” God is paying attention. At the same time, God is issuing us an invitation to be part of the greater story — God’s story. Mary goes on to say, “The Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is His name.” She sings of God’s mercy to her. She tells the story of what he has done in previous generations and finishes with God’s mercy that extends from Abraham to … Mary herself. She realizes she is part of something bigger. God has invited her to His story.
I think this is the key for us when we find ourselves in deep introspection, contemplating our own lives. The impetus behind it ought to be a desire to see how our lives fit into God’s story. So that when we focus on our own pain and struggles, we might hope in God — that He can heal and redeem and restore. Of course, this redemption doesn’t always happen in our timing, but the idea is that we can see our struggles in the light of God’s hope. When we ask if God is even noticing, we can be reminded that not only has He noticed us, but He has entered in to our struggle through the very birth of Jesus.
Advent (and the Magnificat in particular) are invitations — reminders to keep watching, waiting, looking for what God is doing. Which means I can lament the past and the pain in my life, but I can also rejoice that God not only notices and cares about the pain, but wants to heal and redeem, bringing the hope I need that my story — an important story — is one small part of something much bigger God is doing in the world.
You are mindful of our state. Right now.
Help us to value our story and the details of our lives the same way You do, but to write that story in the bigger context of Your Word & Your story.
Becky R, UMin Executive Assistant
A recent adventure into Scripture has left me wrestling with God. It’s a story I’ve probably read a hundred times. And yet, somehow the questions I’m asking about this passage never entered my consciousness the first 99 times I read it.
It’s the story about Jesus healing a paralytic, found in Mark 2. Here’s what happens…
1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
I’m not gonna lie, after reading this recently, my reaction to Jesus’ initial response to such a bold, desperate act of faith was deep frustration, even anger. How must this paralyzed man have felt? I’m sure there was an element of embarrassment for him as he allowed his friends to fight against all odds to get him to this place before Jesus. And think of how the hope in him, the desperation for healing, must have been rising. As Jesus is about to open His mouth to speak, I’m sure this man was faced with the overwhelming realization that he might actually experience true healing. Only to then hear, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
I wonder if the man was processing Jesus’ words something like this:
“Um, excuse me… forgiven? Has He seen the state of my legs? Why does He think I came to Him? Maybe I wasn’t clear… I want to walk. I appreciate the His gesture of forgiving my sins and all. That was sure nice of Him. But that isn’t why I let my friends destroy the roof and interrupt His preaching. All I want are legs that work.”
Only after Jesus senses that the teachers of the law are making an inward fuss about His open display of authority does He say to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home,” thus healing the man of his paralysis.
I guess the question that troubles me is this: If the teachers of the law hadn’t questioned Jesus’ authority, would Jesus have healed the man’s legs at all? Could this story have ended with Jesus walking away from the man after forgiving his sins while leaving his legs paralyzed?
When I think about the places in my own life where I yearn to experience healing, I imagine being set in front of Jesus with my wounds open and bare before Him, hopeful that He’ll choose to heal me once and for all. I can imagine hearing these seemingly irrelevant words from Jesus: “Your sins are forgiven.”
“No, Jesus,” I can hear myself saying, “that is NOT what I wanted. Why can’t you just give me what I want? I want to be relieved of my pain, not forgiven of my sins!”
In all honesty, I have not come to a solid conclusion regarding the tension I find in this text. It still doesn’t entirely settle. The one thing that has become clear to me as I read, however, is my own short-sightedness and small-mindedness. I entered this passage wanting from Jesus an immediately gratifying result. Please, Jesus, heal this poor guy’s legs. But, surprise, surprise, Jesus doesn’t conform His ways to meet my expectations. I wonder if this man’s request was too small. The paralyzed man wanted his legs healed, but Jesus wanted the whole person healed. The paralyzed man wanted the freedom to walk, but Jesus wanted to give him freedom from the weight of sin. The paralyzed man wanted healing from the physical sickness he could see, but Jesus wanted to heal him from the spiritual sickness he could not see.
I wonder if the hope I have for my own healing journey is tragically incomplete. Perhaps Jesus wants to give me more than I have found the words to Him ask for. Perhaps He longs to give me true, eternal wholeness over immediacy. The question I find this text asking is, “Will I trust Jesus’ picture of wholeness and healing over my own?”
By Liz O, UMin Intern