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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Giving up stuff I like makes me loathe Lent (*alternate purpose & plan included)

Giving up sweets, throwing away all chocolate, hiding the remote control, heading to bed earlier, putting away beer/wine, a fast from Facebook. This was the Lent of my childhood - except for Facebook (illegitimate for an 80s child) and beer (illegal for any child). Now fasting from these may prove a valuable discipline. I think it was Thomas Merton who once said: We should periodically abstain from any habit or indulgence to make sure we are not, in fact, enslaved to it. It's often when we intentionally remove an indulgence, habit, or possession that we realize it has owned us - not the other way around.  

True fasting is feasting. The 'part of us' we kind of miss lends us opportunity to further feast on Jesus for true life (John 6:57). Thus, the lenten season affords us a deliberate season of time to further experience the generosity of Jesus through taking that initial step of generously giving of yourself. The feast is the goal - not the fast!!

The idea behind Lent is to imitate Jesus who for 40 days fasted from food and abstained every other tempting indulgence offered him by Satan in the wilderness - money, political power, glory, pride (Luke 4:1-13). Why did he do this? To show that he could? No. To show us how we too can be rigorously self-disciplined? That's frightening. He stepped into concentrated evil - 40 years of temptation rolled into 40 days - so he could feast on his two rewards: Making Dad smile and being with the kids (see Isaiah 53:10). To elaborate: 1. Pleasing His Father (John 4:34) and 2. Being with you and me forever (by crediting his perfectly-lived life to our account - thus, he had to face just-like-us temptation without messianic short-cuts but could not falter). Jesus likewise fasted in order to feast.

An alternate and better purpose for Lent. Even as a liturgical past faded, I entered my adult years covertly loathing Lent and I've never really 'done' anything with that. I don't dislike it any longer but I lend to Lent little to no thought.  My heart & head are finally coming together to agree: Lent is not about giving up but getting willingly caught up in the adventure of divine generosity. Generosity is a response to a gift received (John 1:12) and a gift promised (Matthew 6:20). It's that first step that is so dang hard! A true sacrifice feels like a lonely step into oblivion. However, while it always feels like the sacrificial step of giving hurts to the point that it pinches (or even past the pinch!), the final word on the sacrifice is never pain, there is never an isolated gift, there is never an unnoticed deed, there is never an act of generosity that won't be rewarded with further generosity (2 Corinthians 9:11), even as we remember ultimate generosity (2 Corinthians 8:9).

An alternate and better plan for Lent. So I want to encourage you with a better plan for lent: Over the next 40 days resolve to get caught up in the adventure of feasting on divine generosity - and there is no other way than taking that first "pinching" step into what-seems-like-lonely-oblivion.

Here is the practical piece: Get a generosity challenge to your inbox every day until Easter. Sign up here. To the right you'll see a preview from the 40 Acts: Do Lent Generously Challenge. It also includes 3 different ways to complete each daily act (below). Take a moment to ask God if He would want you to join in. Other than receiving communications through obscure Briticisms (get ready for a "chin-wag" on Day 2), I have no idea what to expect but ... I'm up for a bit of adventure.

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