A Different Kind of Lent

The Lenten Season has always been a challenge, but the past three years have been particularly difficult ones for me.  God’s call to leave a familiar church family came as the Lenten Season began three years ago. I was confused, but I obeyed. I was confounded by His call to leave corporate worship altogether eight months ago, but I was spent and didn’t question His motives. I wasn’t the only one confused or confounded by His call. One man told me last month that I should stop using God as my excuse for not going to church. Others bid me to go somewhere, anywhere!!

I was tempted to give in to their bidding because I have the need to make others happy, but God and I share a sweet connection that’s stronger than any other relationship I have. I’ve lost a few friends over the past three years, but I’ve gained many more. I would not give up one moment of the special time God and I have shared over the past eight months, but I would gladly give up all of the guilt I felt for not being in church even though I was told by someone who cared not to feel bad about not being anywhere.

My frustrations reached a breaking point last month, and I found myself faced with fork in the road. I could give in to the pressures of well-meaning friends or go where God wanted me to go. I know God well enough to know that He will let me go wherever I want to go, but I also know myself well enough to know that usually doesn’t end well. I decided to break away, trust God, and take the unknown fork.

There is a part of me that has a hard time accepting the level of love God offers, and that confounds me more than anything else. There’s no doubt in my mind that God loves me more than I can begin to imagine, but a nagging little voice continually pipes up to remind me that I don’t deserve His love. There’s a seed of truth in that naysayer’s pitch, but thankfully, Christ’s precious love and God’s amazing grace put that seed in the proper place.

I had my own timeline in regard to corporate worship. I was taking a year off no matter what, but last week, a friend asked me to visit her church. It is across the street from my new apartment, another big change in my life within the past year. I wanted to wait until June to reenter a church community. I was determined to stick to my plan, but her warm invitation felt so right. I longed for community, so I accepted her invitation. It ended up being a beautiful blessing, and I could imagine God grinning as my plans came unglued in the midst of His.

I wasn’t surprised by God’s timing, but I was surprised by His theme. He made it clear on this Ash Wednesday that He wanted me to forget about giving something up and start thinking about getting something new. That sounds like the beginning of a beautiful time of reflection to me.

 

 

A New Hunger

Like Sabbath, Lent is made for man, not man for Lent. Like Sabbath, there are many and varied opinions on what it means and ways to observe Lent. I’ve pondered and prayed about Lent over the past few years, and I have gotten away from the notion of making it a punishment. Lent is about growing, and that may mean doing some weeding so growth is unhindered.

Whether you believe the forty days of Lent are based on Israel’s years in the desert, Christ’s days of fasting in the Judaean Desert, or His hours in the grave, all three have one thing in common. They are about healing and growing nearer to God. Lent should be about the same. It is a time for reflection, prayer, and turning my heart toward Christ’s precious love, death, and resurrection.

I will be in the midst of a move during Lent, so I’ve started sorting my belongings. I’ve been through this process four times in the past thirteen years, and each time I come away feeling a little lighter. I’m moving into a small apartment in town, so  I’m having to do some serious purging. I’m giving up anything that doesn’t fit into my new home, and I plan to do the same thing with my heart.

Jesus went into the Judaean Desert to be tempted for forty days and nights, and He didn’t get a break on Sunday the way we do during Lent.

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.” (Matthew 4:1-2 NLT)

I am struck by the fact that Christ came away from the desert very hungry. I think the point of Lent is to bring my heart to a point of great hunger. As a teacher, I loved seeing my students hunger for knowledge. I hunger for it myself. I pray I will always have that hunger, but I pray this Lenten season brings a new hunger to my heart, a hunger for Him.

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Over the Fence

The openness of the mountaintop affords incredible, unhindered views of distant mountains from my bedroom, but it also gives the wind free reign. Last night, as the wind was raging, I thought of the description of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.

“Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:2 NLT)

I moved the outdoor furniture away from my glass door and secured what I could before I went to bed, but a few things managed to escape during a roaring windstorm last night. When the girls heard the hissing and howling yesterday afternoon, I told them it was a wind storm. Lilly asked if I could see the wind. I told her that no one could see the wind, but we could see its movement in objects as it goes by. I showed her the weeping cherry branches dancing all around and the bigger trees standing firm.

The same is true of the Holy Spirit. I cannot see the Spirit, but I can certainly feel Its presence. It can be a gentle breeze that cools on a summer day or a mighty winter windstorm that turns my heart upside down. It was the latter last night and so was the wind!

When I went out to assess the damage this morning, I saw a little white bucket lying on the ground far from where I had left it. I thought of my heart’s battle this week and started to leave it on the other side of the gate to remind me to give the Holy Spirit free reign. The iron gate that surrounds the pool is a lot like the iron gate that surrounds my heart. The pool needs a gate, but my heart does not. That was a difficult lesson requiring a storm to make clear.

It matters little if the gate around my heart is ornate or simple if it hinders the Holy Spirit. It is the last Sunday after Epiphany, and Lent begins on Wednesday. Two years ago, God sent my heart sailing over the fence into unknown territory. I didn’t want to go over the fence then, but the Holy Spirit lifted me over it just as the rushing wind lifted that little bucket last night. I know I cannot go where God desires unless I give His Spirit free reign, and I know He knows best when it comes to my heart. I think I’ll give up the need to know for Lent this year and see where the Spirit takes me. I have the feeling it will be over another fence 🙂

Over the Fence

 

 

Seeing the God in Others:)

If you’ve ever had someone see the good in you that you cannot see in yourself, then you understand the power of seeing the good in others. Seeing the good in others is seeing the God in them. Christ helps me do just that and connect in a way that changes them, me, and the world as God releases His Son’s precious love into His world. The message on this last day of Lent is the importance of that connectedness and the compassion that results when His love is recognized and released.

I am designed by my Creator to connect, and I cannot be who He wants me to be until I make the connections He has in mind. Having someone take time to help me understand Christ’s love by seeing the good and God in me gives me the courage to carry out His call to do the same for others. Love and worship must be shared. The body of Christ is connected by His love. When I think about Easter, I am reminded of the resurrection and humbled to think that the powerful love that brought Christ out of the grave is in my own heart and the hearts of all who accept His offer of love.

Christ’s love stays hidden in many, and I’ve certainly hidden it away in my own heart. Bringing His love out of the darkness and into the light of relationship changes everything. Having someone recognize that love and bring it to the surface with honest communion transforms me and allows the resurrection living and loving God has in mind for me. Jesus did not stay in the grave, and His love will not stay locked away in my heart. The grave could not contain His love, and neither can my heart. Christ’s precious love is meant to be shared, and it will be whether or not I participate in the process of sharing it or not.

Love cannot be imposed on others. To love out of fear or force goes against God’s very nature. Before I can see His love in others, I must first see it in myself. That comes when someone sees what I cannot and helps me come to the place of seeing it myself. It’s a sweet revelation that prompts me to want to do the same for others. The process is a painful one that takes time, but it is well worth the hurt to experience the delight that comes from loving as God desires. It brings out the very best when a dear friend sees the worst but still loves the best in me. Releasing God’s love into His world and helping others do the same frees the spirit and heart to connect and serve in God’s world in His way.

It’s been a crazy Lent this year, but on this Holy Saturday, I’m seeing the beautiful light at the end of the tunnel. The light is Christ’s love, and He’s waiting there for me with a sweet resurrection smile of delight on His face. God reminded me this morning that I serve a risen Savior, and that makes all the difference in the way I love and connect in His beautiful world:)  Happy Easter!!

Praising The Razing:)

Razing is literally taking something to the ground, and that’s just what God’s done with my heart this Lent. He started on Ash Wednesday and has been demolishing in ways I still don’t understand. I do understand that I don’t have to understand, so I suppose that indicates a little growth. The messages this week have all been about community, and I’ve been humbled by the questions they have raised in my heart. God created us to be in community, and I’ve struggled with that my entire life. I’ve seen my inability to connect as God desires in the bareness left by His razing. He made it clear that I have to deal with that before He can go any further with the building He has in mind.

I do not plan to spend another moment figuring out why I haven’t made connections as I should have, and I do not plan to ponder the problems which may lie ahead. God made it clear to me today that it’s time to move forward, forget past hurts, and let go of future worries. God is God and will work out all the details. He isn’t asking me to do the building, only sweep away the fear-filled failures so I can see the bigger problem with my heart.

He used the image of tearing down a rotten wooden structure and then building a brand new one on the massive termite colony that caused the other to crumble. It will be fine for a little while, but it will eventually fall. It is a familiar pattern. God will take care of my heart problem, but He wants me to acknowledge it first and give Him the license to dig deeper. It was not fun to sweep away the failures because it meant facing them one by one and forgiving myself for each. I did, however, find great peace in handing over the excavation to His loving hands.

God took my heart down to the ground and me with it the past few weeks, and now He is insisting on digging even deeper. It is much easier to give Him the space to dig now that everything is gone, and there is sweet freedom to the emptiness before me. Like the show Extreme Makeover, demolition is necessary before a new structure can be built. Watching the demo may be fun, but looking at the vast emptiness is frightening. I am excited about what God will do with the space now that it’s empty, I have no doubts that it will be much better than what the folks on the show see when Ty says, “Move that bus!!”

Until then, I’m praising His razing and not worrying about the results. God has a much better imagination than I do, and He knows what’s best for me. I marvel at God’s timing but then I remember that He’s been waiting for me to give Him the space so He can do the remodeling He has in mind. It was my prayer on Ash Wednesday, and it is my prayer this Good Friday. I pray it will always be my prayer. I might just see a tent when God moves that bus:) Whatever I see, I plan to shout “Hallelujah!!” at the top of my heart!

Knowing & Doing

God reminded me this week of the power of fasting when it comes to living the praying life. Fasting clears the mind and helps focus the heart on God. It is best when done voluntarily, but I tend to neglect the discipline of simplicity even though I know it is good for me. Knowing and doing should go together without effort, but that isn’t always true with me. Like Bugs Bunny, I know I shouldn’t do something, but I do it anyway. It’s the mantra of the spoiled child, and I am guilty of being a very spoiled child of God. I cannot pick and choose when it comes to obedience.

Feasting is so much more fun than fasting, and I have no problem diving into a feast. The good thing about a virus-imposed fast is that the very thought of food is abhorrent so there isn’t the temptation of eating. I’m as empty as I’ve ever been after this three-day bout with whatever it is that has hold of my digestive tract, but I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Fasting and confession are similar in that they empty out and leave space for God. I certainly have more room for Him now than I did last week. The question is what will I put back now that the space is available. Will I rent it to God or give Him the title and the keys? I have the tendency to let God rent space or stay on as a beloved houseguest rather than give Him ownership. I am supposed to be His temple not His landlady or hostess, but I’ve clearly been the lady of this manor and a gracious hostess. If I am to be His servant, I have to give Him the keys and stop trying to manage that which He should be managing.

As children, we are taught to take charge and be independent. God teaches us to let go and trust Him. The world’s message and God’s message are always going to be at odds if I try to balance both in my life. The best balancing is finding Christ in the center of my heart and holding on to Him. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. Mine has the tendency to be much too heavy. He knows that I have to come to the place of laying down mine before I can pick up His, and I thank Him for helping me get to that place of not only knowing, but also doing that this week. Lent is about emptying out and about doing what I already know to do. It’s a simple and very beautiful lesson in living the praying life that I truly needed.

Lent & Love

I stayed home with the girls this morning since we are all trying to get back to normal after nasty bouts with a stomach virus. Being sick reminds me to be thankful when I am well, and eating solid food is something I too often take for granted. They are much better, and I’m getting there. God placed Psalm 103:8-14 in my path today, and it was just the reassurance I needed.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.

He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,


So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.

As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.

For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.” NASB

The words of this beautiful psalm comfort when I think of the wandering I have done. He will remove my transgressions from me, but I learned this week that I have to be willing to let go of them first. My selfishness causes me to hold to them like a security blanket or pacifier, but my love for God enables me to let go and let Him take them as far from me as the east is from the west. You can’t get any further away than that, and I love that His ways take them where they need to be. My ways often keep them handy just in case I need them. Sin is often disguised as good, and I’ve wrestled with God in that department most of my life. Doing what I think is best is playing God, and that is the biggest sin of all. Thinking I know what’s best for me and others is right up there beside it as it shows I don’t believe He is who He says He is.

So glad God doesn’t stay angry and even more happy that He doesn’t reward me according to my iniquities. His love is higher than any love I can imagine, but I’ve taken it for granted and even taken advantage of His loving nature. As I’m giving up space during this season of Lent, I’m getting down to the bare bones in regard to what’s taking up space in my heart, mind, spirit, and soul. It’s been the most blessed, but by far the most painful Lent of my life. God needs all my space to render the transformation He has in mind, and that involves taking inventory and carefully discarding all that is in His way. Thursday was a difficult day, and Friday proved to be even more challenging as God emptied me as never before. I didn’t like what I saw, and that’s always the case when I let God show me the truth rather than trying to show Him what I would like to be the truth.

The beauty of cleansing is that no matter how much it hurts, the feeling I get afterward makes me forget the angst it took to get me there. I think that’s what Lent is all about, so perhaps this is my first real season of Lent. I’ve taken it seriously before, but what I gave up was always more about punishing me than about worshipping God and remembering the cost of having access to His amazing love. Christ came down at Christmas, and I love the beautiful season when we remember Immanuel; but Easter has become my favorite season as I remember the Risen Messiah who did not let the sins of this world keep Him down. He faced them head on, took them upon His own shoulders, died for them, and rose to sit next to God and intercede for me. That lifts my heart and spirit as nothing else in this world.

Lent isn’t over yet, and I know the lessons of Lent aren’t over either. I’m sure there will be more space to clear before Saturday, but I’m not who I was on February 13th. It’s been a difficult five and a half weeks, but I’m thankful for the changes He has wrought and wouldn’t go back for anything in this world. He is God, and He knows and loves me more than I can understand. That’s the reason I can continue with the emptying out; I know it’s what’s best for me and want to be even closer to Him. Lent and love go hand in hand. Lent isn’t about punishment; it is about taking stock and remembering that my sin put Christ on the cross. He simply wants me to recognize it and get it out of His way now so He can give me what He so desires for me to have. Holy Week is a special time of worship, and I look forward to all God has in these last few days of Lent. I know I will be surprised by all He has in store, but I’m learning to give Him the space and do what He knows is best.