Tag Archives: Lent

The Light of Lent

As a child, I experienced Lent as an extra-long prelude to Good Friday. It had a dark, somber feeling to it. The themes all seem to center around the suffering of Jesus and the cross. Confession of sin was the central act of worship.  The dark sanctuary was a contrast to the bright morning light of Sunday worship.  The hymns we sang felt heavy and ponderous.   We did not walk to the cross – we crawled with scrapped knees and heavy hearts.

Is Lent meant to be so dark?  Does our Papa in heaven delight in the ways we berate ourselves?

One of the early purposes of Lent was to prepare new Christian believers for their baptism on Easter.  It was a time of instruction, and even fasting, but it had a joyous destination:  to be joined to Jesus in both his death and resurrection.

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4).

The new life in Christ was the destination of celebration which colored the time of preparation with joy and light.

Gethsemane window background removed

Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane

The word Lent comes from an old English word that means “spring.” This year at Trinity Lutheran (where I am serving as interim senior pastor), our Lenten theme will have a spring like quality: The Garden of Prayer.  Inspired by the stain glass window above Trinity’s pipe organ, we will join Jesus in prayer.

The theme verse will be “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Each Wednesday evening together we will embrace a specific Christian form of prayer.  We will celebrate the rich ancient spiritual practices of Gratitude, Confession, Intercession and Meditation.  Like a loving father or mother, God delights in spending time with God’s children.  Let us join in that delight this coming Lent.

Lent begins next Wednesday, February 10.  Encourage you to find a way to center in with God’s Love during this holy season.

I will also be using this blog to highlight these different forms of prayer.  If you want to follow along sign-up for the weekly e-mail using the form in right hand column.

How has Lent impacted your life in Christ? 

Prayerful Eating

I have written in the past about Slow Lent and how this season of spiritual discipline can be a time to deliberately slow down. The slowing down can be an intentional way to make space and time to listen for God. My Lenten discipline for this year has a specific deceleration: prayerful eating.

I am not sure how or why but I grew up eating my meals in a hurry, but  I have continued that practice today. I seem to inhale my food without giving it much thought or reflection. I don’t even really taste and enjoy the meal. I noticed my rush at a recent dinner with friends from Resurrection; I cleaned my plate ten minutes before anyone else. And I was engaged in the table conversation!

fruit-basket-still-620When I was at the Pacem in Terris hermitage earlier this winter, I decided to take my time eating the simple meals of fruit, cheese and bread.  To give thanks for my daily bread. To be mindful of the taste, texture and smell of the meal.  To enjoy each mouthful as a gift from God, the farmers, bakers, and handlers of the food.  I reflected on verse 4 of Psalm 103, “who satisfies you with good as long as you live.” Each meal became a holy moment in my retreat.

I have continued that practice after I left. So I was surprised and pleased when our national church office of the ELCA recommend a similar approach as a Lenten discipline. It is called prayerful eating and it is adapted from Mindful Eating by Jan Chozen Bays, M.D. The first four steps are:

1. Prayerfully express your gratitude throughout the meal.

2. Pause before beginning the meal. Look at each item of food, taking it in with your eyes. Notice the color, texture, and shape of the food.

3. Take a moment to say grace. Thank God, animals, plants and people who provided these gifts of food.

There are further steps and explanation which you can access at this link.

rice and beansI am planning simple meals this Lent. My daughter Christina taught me the delicious value of rice and beans this past summer. (My other daughter , Suzanne, taught me the delicious value of a cheesecake, but I plan to enjoy that after Easter.)

The whole purpose of the prayerful eating discipline is to become aware of God’s presence in the midst of my daily life.

How do you build such awareness into your life?

Lord Jesus, thank you for my daily bread.

Slow Lent – Third Season

YOUNG WOMAN RECEIVES MARK OF ASHESToday is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent.  With the placement of ashes on our forehead, we acknowledge the words, “From dust you come and to dust you shall return.”   Words that describe our mortality, the prospect that we will all die some day.  So we take time now to face our own death as we also reflect on Jesus’ death on the cross.  “For while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.

I continue to be a fan of the Slow Lent Movement.  I have posted in past years regarding it and still think it is helpful today.   I wrote this a couple of years ago.

Bishop Margaret Payne introduced me to the Slow Lent Movement several years ago and her passionate explanation of our need for it still rings true.

She spoke on how pastors have bought into the seduction of our culture’s three A’s: Accomplishment, Adrenalin, and Affirmation. As pastors we think our worth is based on how much we accomplish in our congregations and we enjoy the adrenalin rush that comes from having much to do and being needed by many people. And we relish the public affirmation that often comes from having our hands in many programs and ministries. I found myself nodding my head several time, recognizing my own self-delusions being exposed by her words.

But I don’t think her words are limited to pastors. In spite our professed trust in God’s grace, so many of us who are Christians still seek our self-worth based on our accomplishments. We rush about trying to fulfill the many “shoulds” we carry inside our heads. We seek public affirmation even as we feign humility. We have bought into the prevailing culture without seeing our need for a new way of life.

This year for Lent, I am focusing on a specific act of slowing down: prayerful eating.  I will write more about this in next week’s post.

Lord Jesus, teach me to rest in you.

Unplugged Friday

Lent emphasizes spiritual disciplines. For example, Christians are encouraged to “give something up” for Lent as a way to make room for God. Fasting has been a spiritual practice for centuries. People forsake food (either totally or some favorite like chocolate or coffee) for a period of time so that they can more intentionally focus on loving God and loving the neighbor.

This Lent I am modifying the practice of fasting to being  “unplugged.” I plan to disconnect from all forms of computerized information on Fridays during Lent. No e-mail, no Facebook, no blog, no texting on Friday, my normal day off.  I plan to use the time for prayer, reading and reflection. A colleague of mine, Rich Melheim, is recommending a techfast  breakfast, staying unplugged each morning.  Such practices could also strengthen our creativity.

Jon Burg wrote on his blog regarding our need to unplug,

You, me and everyone else in the room knows that when you are answering emails on your mobile you aren’t really present. Your kids know it. Your co-workers know it. Your clients know it. Your spouse knows it. You know it. I’ve come to terms with this in my own life.

But I recently had a deeper insight. When I am always plugged-in to a device, I am not really present in my own life. I don’t enjoy my life as much when I live in the half-present. Not only does constant connectivity lessen my enjoyment of life, it distracts me from achieving the creative goals I set out for myself. The brain needs mindless time to reflect. This is why we come up with our best ideas in the shower.

A Bad Idea?

A Bad Idea?

I guarantee that if there were a tv screen in the shower, we would draw less inspiration from the shower experience. Who knows what major works of art, creativity and innovation would be lost.

You can read his whole article here

Part of the Lenten tradition of 40 day is based on Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, a time of fasting and prayer, (Luke 4:1-2). I am pretty sure Jesus was also “unplugged” the whole time.

What spiritual practices are you embracing this Lent?

Lord Jesus, guide me into deeper devotion to you.

Slow Lent Revisted

Slow Lent Movement

Slow Lent Movement

In two days, Lent begins. Lent is a church season of preparation, looking towards Jesus’ passion. I have written about Lent before and as I stopped to reread it, I realize that I need to learn once again to slow down, to realign my life.

Two years ago I wrote about Bishop Margaret Payne’s passion for a Slow Lent Movement. A brief section of what I wrote then,

She spoke on how pastors have bought into the seduction of our culture’s three A’s: Accomplishment, Adrenalin, and Affirmation. As pastors we think our worth is based on how much we accomplish in our congregations and we enjoy the adrenalin rush that comes from having much to do and being needed by many people. And we relish the public affirmation that often comes from having our hands in many programs and ministries. I found myself nodding my head several time, recognizing my own self-delusions being exposed by her words.

But I don’t think her words are limited to pastors. In spite our professed trust in God’s grace, so many of us who are Christians still seek our self-worth based on our accomplishments. We rush about trying to fulfill the many “shoulds” we carry inside our heads. We seek public affirmation even as we feign humility. We have bought into the prevailing culture without seeing our need for a new way of life.

I confess that I continue to find my primary worth in my accomplishments, rather than my identity as God’s child. This Lent our congregation will be focused on the Lord’s Prayer and the opening phrase always give me pause, “Our Father in heaven.” Jesus instructs us to approach God as a loving father who seek us out.

I pray for you that the season of Lent will provide be a time of slow, reflective prayer, of simply being with God.

Yes, there is much to do.

Yes, our neighbor needs love.

But in our anxious hurry, you and I forget who we are. We need to slow down and be with our loving papa in heaven.

Lord Jesus, remind me once again to slow down in you.

The Mask of Mardi Gras

Today is Mardi Gras, the day of celebration prior to Ash Wednesday.  Tomorrow we begin Lent. As a pastor I am more mindful of Ash Wednesday, but I understand the attraction of Mardi Gras. Most of us like a good party, a reason to celebrate. Since Lent is a time of spiritual discipline, which can involve fasting or personal denial, at Mardi Gras one can “excuse” oneself from the anticipated denial by celebrating in wine and song.

One piece of Mardi Gras captured my attention this year, the use of masks. My guess is that you still do not want to be recognized during the celebration. You fear that you might do something so embarrassing that you prefer to be anonymous. But most masks are very superficial and do not truly cover your identity. It may be more of a psychological mask that allows you to behave in a way you wouldn’t otherwise.

Masks are something that come off on Ash Wednesday. The central theme of Ash Wednesday is our mortality. Adam was told after his rebellion against God, “From dust you come and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).  The imposition of ashes marks us as mortal sinners.  We may party hard today, but eventually the party ends. The grave will “unmasks” us all.

The season of Lent marches towards the cross of Jesus, where the Son of God is executed. The human rebellion against God is fully revealed. No masked will be allowed on that day.

But then God turns everything around with Easter Sunday. It is no longer masks we wear, but a new resurrected body. The shining reality of God’s mercy and love shines in every hue and color. That celebration is even bigger than Mardi Gras.

Lord Jesus, show me how to find my joy in you.

The Folly of Ashes

"From dust you come, to dust you shall return"

Ash Wednesday brings the strange custom of placing ashes on the forehead of  Christians.  This custom was not so strange in ancient cultures.  People would sit in ashes as a public confession that they had done wrong, that they deserved to be punished and that they seek God’s mercy.  Jesus noted this custom when he cursed two cities that did not receive him, For if the deeds of power were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes (Luke 10:13).

Ashes are a symbol of our sinful, broken, self-serving character and our desperate need for God’s mercy.  Unless we acknowledge and confess our sin, God’s grace has no power, Christ’s death has no purpose.  But with such confession comes the brilliant healing light of God’s love.

The most powerful (even ridiculous?) image for the use of ashes comes in the book of Jonah.   The King of Nineveh heard of Jonah’s preaching on Nineveh’s impending destruction.  He rose from his throne, removed his rob, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  He even declared all men and animals to be covered in sackcloth, with the hope that God would be merciful.  The king showed his wisdom in this foolish behavior.

 This morning I read something on a blog that took God’s mercy deeper.

With that in mind, I’ve been wrestling the last few days: Isn’t it ironic how casually we are willing to talk about God’s mercy, as if we deserve it? As if it’s owed to us? At the same time, we cringe at the idea that God might be calling us to live on less; to give some stuff up. We pile on excuse after excuse about why God would want us to live cushy, comfortable, safe lives… Yet, the God we follow wasn’t willing to cling to the glory he deserved, because he was so moved by his love for us. We, on the other hand, don’t even deserve the breath in our lungs. It’s a gift. How, then, could we ever justify our security?

via Perfect Choreographed Dance. « The Trees Will Clap.

How does God’s mercy impact you?

Colorful Vegetables for the Spiritual Life

Whats more colorful or spiritual than VeggieTales?

Every week I receive an e-mail from Mayo Clinic on how to live a healthier life.  Recently it recommended that my dinner plate become more “colorful” with a variety of vegetables and fruit.   Yesterday when I visited my mom, she and the other residents were served a plate bright with red pepper, yellow squash, green beans and orange carrots.  Mom was eating healthy.

Afterwards I made the connection to yesterday’s post and my disparaging comments about zucchini.  As I thought more, zucchini grows into what God created it to be: zucchini.    It adds color and nutrition,  if not taste, to many meals.   It can be part of a healthy diet.

So I want to stretch the vegetable analogy.  Perhaps, as Christians, we need variety in our spiritual disciplines to live healthy lives with God.  We need to add color or spice (even zucchini?) to the ways we open our lives to God.  

Certainly, if one has no discipline, no method of reading scripture, saying prayers, or attending worship, then the simple acts of reading Matthew or John, saying the Lord’s Prayer and participating in Sunday worship are a great beginning.  But if such a pattern is already established, then variety may be needed.  Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Instead of praying a list of prayers,  light a candle and sit in silence, listening for God
  • Instead of reading a Bible chapter, do research on a favorite word in the Bible: love, joy
  • Instead of praying at your desk or table, go for a walk outside and converse with God.
  • Instead of attending your normal church, worship in a church of a different tradition: charismatic, Quaker, Roman Catholic (this is very hard to write as a pastor, but I do it when I am on vacation, so why shouldn’t you?)

In other words, change your pattern of spiritual discipline, with the intention of opening your life in a new way to God’s presence.   You may discover that the old ways are still the best, but you may return with a fresh perspective.  Or you may discover a new spiritual practice that you can embrace fully.

Lent starts tomorrow; what new spiritual disciplines might you embrace for the journey?

Still Light

After posting about Lent the past two days, I had to remind myself that it is still the season of Epiphany, the season of light in the midst of darkness.  Epiphany began on January 6th with the light of the Bethlehem star leading the magi to baby Jesus (Matthew 2) and it ends Sunday, March 6, with the story of  the Transfiguration when the glory of Jesus is revealed to the disciples in a blaze of light.  And I certainly feel the need for light this winter.

Having grown up in Washington state, I had to learn to adjust to Minnesota winters.  In the learning process, I discovered that for me the severity was not as difficult as the duration.  I could be kind of macho about big storms or severe cold.  I remember running with some friends in -15 below temperature, basically so we could brag to other runners about our devotion (or our foolishness?).  But this winter seems to have started early and just settled

Foolish Runner or "I can't hear you due to the icicles in my ears"

in for a long stay.  And though we had a few days of teasing warmth last week, I know that winter could easily stretch into late March.   I can wish or complain or rant or blog, but the climate will not relinquish its grip based on my reaction to it.

So I come back to the season of light, Epiphany, and the glimpses of God’s glory.  One glimpse is that now, as I drive home, I see the sunset.  And what glorious sunsets I have witnessed. Beauty is one way God reveals God’s self, even in the midst of a long winter.  The sun light on freshly fallen snow has such an intensity that I have to squint or wear sunglasses. Yet not every day has that intensity.  Light can brilliant or muted, just as God’s power and presence can be for us.  I recently heard Bishop Rogness preach that God’s light permeates all of life, even when we think everything is dark.  We tend to seek the spectacular fireworks of glory, yet God is often in the flickering candle.  The light of Jesus shines in every season, even the Minnesota winter.

When or how has God’s light shone for you?

Slow Lent Movement: Part Two

Slow down for Lent

Yesterday I introduced Bishop Payne’s concept of a Slow Lent.   Here are five slow spiritual disciplines that complement traditional Lenten disciplines.

1. Traditional: repentance 
    Slow: speak less, listen more.

In our hurried culture, we often are so quick to speak, to get our words out, that we rarely take the time to listen to what others say, especially those that we disagree with.  We rush to judgment when we need to listen and possibly to change the direction of our thinking, planning, and acting.

2. Traditional: forgiveness
   Slow: let go of one “should.”    

Many of us carry various kinds of “ought’s or should’s” that overload our schedule. We need to “forgive” ourselves.   For example, as a new pastor, I feel I should be involved in different local community activities.  One piece of wisdom I received recently is that a new pastor should not be involved in local community activities during the first year so that he or she can fully enter into the life of the congregation.   So I have given up that “should” even before Lent starts.

3. Traditional: catechesis (teaching)
    Slow: re-learn one basic of the faith

Rather than focusing on the newest spiritual discipline, simply re-focus on some basic spiritual discipline.  This year at Resurrection Lutheran, we will be re-learning the Lord’s Prayer and its meaning for prayer and life.

4. Traditional: fasting
    Slow: choose one way to ‘unplug’

For some Christians, Lent means giving something up so that one can better focus on God.  The usual items are chocolate, desert, alcohol, or meat.   Bishop Payne suggested that perhaps we “unplug” from the internet or turn off our smartphones or television.  We might not be able to do it 24/7, but we might choose to turn it off every evening or every Saturday.  Of course, the purpose is to open our time and our lives in a fresh way to God.

5. Traditional: almsgiving
     Slow: simplify

Certainly we need to be as gracious as our God and give to people in need.   Lent is a great time to practice such giving.  Yet our culture is so focused on the accumulation of things, perhaps we can shift our attention from accumulating to letting go.  My uncle Jerry lived for several years during his retirement in an RV.  Whenever he considered buying something, he had to consider what he would give away to make space for the new.  It made him think twice before buying.

Which discipline might help you slow down this Lent?