Today is the first day of Lent. I decided several weeks ago that I would like to do some sort of study this year in preparation for Easter and found a study called “40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast.” It sounded like just what I was looking for. I’ve only given up something for Lent once or twice and found it unfulfilling for me….more like I was focusing on an unwritten rule than on the sacrifice of Christ. I wanted something different.
Today, while reading the first chapter, I discovered what it is that Christ wants as a sacrifice from me. I imagine He desires this from me for more than just this Lenten season. I’ll tell you what it is He has asked of me later in this post, but first I’d like to give you a brief review of what I got out of Day One.
“Christian spirituality is not a life project for becoming a better person.” Eugene Peterson. This was the quote that was on the first page in a breakout box. I think I read it four times before it really sank in. I look around at people and think, “He/she/they need Jesus in their lives.” And they do, but not just to be a better person. The question was posed, “Can such polite fasts alone truly prepare us to be awed by Christ’s resurrection?” Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. So, are we awed or are these simply the facts. God seems more interested in what we are becoming than in what we are giving up. Look up and read Psalm 51:16-17. I read 3 versions (HCSB, NIV and The Message) and thought for the blog The Message spells it out most clearly.
Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship
when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love
don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.
You see, faith is less about sacrifice of stuff and more about the surrender of our selves and our souls. Yes, Lord, you got my attention there. It’s not a “thing” you want as a sacrifice from me. It’s me…..more of me to fill with more of you. It’s those moments in the early morning that I have carved out for “me time” that I sense the Holy Spirit prompting me to sacrifice. I’m not sure if it’s just for Lent or if it’s a permanent change – we shall see.
Today’s reflection deals with Lent as an experience rather than a project. Don’t measure success or failure by the amount of sacrifice (“made it X days”, “kept my commitment”, “totally failed”) but instead simply soak up the experiences described in the Gospels. Read them as if you are a participant in the story. Put yourself into the scene and experience the Bible. For this study all passages can be found in the Gospel of John.
Today was John 12:1-11. Again, I’ll share the Message version here.
12 1-3 Six days before Passover, Jesus entered Bethany where Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead, was living. Lazarus and his sisters invited Jesus to dinner at their home. Martha served. Lazarus was one of those sitting at the table with them. Mary came in with a jar of very expensive aromatic oils, anointed and massaged Jesus’ feet, and then wiped them with her hair. The fragrance of the oils filled the house.
4-6 Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, even then getting ready to betray him, said, “Why wasn’t this oil sold and the money given to the poor? It would have easily brought three hundred silver pieces.” He said this not because he cared two cents about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of their common funds, but also embezzled them.
7-8 Jesus said, “Let her alone. She’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me.”
9-11 Word got out among the Jews that he was back in town. The people came to take a look, not only at Jesus but also at Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead. So the high priests plotted to kill Lazarus because so many of the Jews were going over and believing in Jesus on account of him.
I don’t know how many times I’ve read this and totally missed the fact that the Jews began plotting to kill Lazarus because he was an evangelist for Christ. I have read other accounts about Mary and Martha. Martha working at serving everyone physically while Mary was serving Jesus spiritually. Judas having an exact amount in mind of what the oils/perfumes/nard was worth and calculating just how big a cut of it he could have gotten. Christ drawing a large crowd once again. But somehow I totally skipped over the last half of verse 9 and all of 10 and 11. People were coming to see Lazarus as well as Jesus. He was a walking, talking, living, breathing miracle. And, by being this miracle, he was put on the hit list of the chief priests of the Jews. Think about this for just a moment and you will see just how out of their minds crazy the priests had become. How obsessed they were with doing away with anything or anyone close to Jesus. This man, Lazarus, had already been raised from the dead, and yet the chief priests plotted to kill him. Seriously? Did they really believe they were more powerful than God? Do we? We get so wrapped up in what WE can do, what WE can handle, who WE can become. We forget that without Christ, we can do nothing, we can handle nothing and we are nobody. And that is what God is asking of me this Lent…..less of me, more of Him. Gladly, Lord, gladly.