As many of you may know, we are in the midst of the season of Lent. Lent historically begins 40 days before Easter on what is known as Ash Wednesday. Some of you may have participated at some point in Ash Wednesday. You go to a special service at church, walk forward to the Priest and the Priest says to you, “You are from the dust of the earth and to the dust of the earth you will return.” The Priest then takes some ashes (burned Palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday) mixed with olive oil and paints a cross on your forehead. In high school we could always tell the Catholic kids because they would have ashes smeared on them. I never knew what it meant but I remember thinking it was weird.
During Lent, Catholics and other High Church religions, make a commitment to give something up for a short season. It’s a reminder that everything good comes from God. It’s a reminder that we are dust and that all of the stuff that we collect here on this earth will one day return to dust. It’s also a reminder to care more deeply for those who don’t have as much stuff as we enjoy. There is a lot of good to be found in this Lent tradition.
Now, since people are going to be giving something up for Lent, it only makes sense that the day before Lent begins would become a big party. So the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday became known as Shrove Tuesday or, more commonly, Fat Tuesday. And on Fat Tuesday people tend to overindulge in pleasurable experiences. There’s actually a national drinking establishment known as Fat Tuesday.
And because we love our excess, some people decided that one night of indulgence wasn’t enough, that several days of celebration are needed to prepare for the sacrifice of Lent. So the weekend before Lent begins became what we know today as Mardi Gras. A time of great indulgence. Mardi Gras or Carnival. And Carnival comes from the Latin words carne vale, which literally means “without meat.” It was common practice for those celebrating Lent to go without meat, at least on Fridays, for the 40 days preceding Easter. Still today you will see signs for fish fries outside of many restaurants and churches on Fridays during Lent.
1 John 5:21 says, “Keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your heart.” And that’s what the season of Lent is really all about. Is there anything in my life that I have allowed to take God’s place in my heart? The stuff we might choose to give up during Lent is simply a reminder for us to ask the question: Is there anything in my life that I have allowed to take God’s place in my heart?
So in the weeks to come, during the remainder of the Lent season, as we prepare for Easter, I’m going to participate in this Lent tradition. Why don’t you join me? Let’s give up some kind of personal pleasure so that we can be reminded to focus on our dependence on God.
Maybe give up coffee for the week? Or desserts? Smoking? Alcohol? Meat? Chocolate? TV? Keep your ipod in a drawer . . . turned off? Hot showers (make sure you continue to bathe, but no hot water)? Maybe you give up shopping?
I’m personally going to give up cauliflower and prune juice. No! If you’re a vegetarian, don’t commit to giving up meat for the week. Choose something that will have an impact in your life.
In all seriousness, I’m going to give up two things this week. The first is coffee. I drink a lot of coffee every day and so this is going to be a strong reminder for me about my dependence on God. I’m also going to give up hot showers. I love to take long hot showers, so I’m not looking forward to this. But taking cold showers will remind me of all that God provides for me and also of the needs of others to whom I need to be a blessing.
This is a one week commitment and then we’ll try giving something else up the following week.
Would love to hear if you’re joining me and what exactly you’re giving up!
Our family does this…..I was raised Lutheran, so I was used to making a big deal of Lent. Three years ago, my 6 year old daughter decided that TV was making a big impact on her life (I think she also knew that I thought it was mostly not a good influence). She decided to give it up for Lent. I actually called Time Warner and had it disconnected. We have never had it reconnected! Now I think, if we did something like this every year (give up something we could do without….and never depend on it again), we might be left with “nothing” in the end…OR, I think in God’s eyes, we’d be left with all that we really need……..and really start depending on HIM.
I thought long and hard about this and there are many things that I could give up but none of them would really affect me nor do I depend on them. I’m not a coffee drinker, I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke, I’m not a big TV watcher but one thing I am is lazy! I’m giving up laziness for lent. By taking away laziness I’ll have more time to spend with family/friends, more time to get things done around the house and in turn I’ll get my basement decluttered and when I do, I’ll be giving all unwanted items to charity which will in turn bless my neighbors. (I’ll be giving through Freecycle.)
I’m new to this whole lent thing so hopefully I’m doing it right and I’ll be able to stick to it. I sure love my laziness. =)
I just wanted to let you know I was very encouraged by the message this morning. Last night as I was praying, the Lord convicted me of doing a two week fast. I’ve done a one week fast this past summer.
I’ve been to Peru with Child Reach and I was very moved by the thought of taking cold showers so we appreciate what we have in America. I’ve decided that along with my 2 week fast, I’m going to do 40 days of cold showers.
I had my first today after my work out and I couldn’t help but hate that I was such a baby about it… when this is an everyday thing for millions around the world.
Today in church I wasn’t sure that if with my fast I should share in communion. After praying, I realized that my fast is meant to draw near to the Lord… and that I should allow this to be an opportunity to really appreciate communion in a new light.
The last time I fasted, I needed my accountability I had with the people I told I was fasting. Through that experience I came across this question “why can’t my promise to God be accountability enough?”
I wanted to share all this with you because I wanted you to know how much it means to me to know that I go to a church that is “coincidently” convicted of the same things I am. God bless you.
I was surprised by today’s (Sunday, February 24, 2008) service. Rivertree has fatefully taken the stance of tolerance of other christian religion’s rites, like not eating meat on Friday, sprinkling (baptism), and the confessional, while noting that such do not have a biblical foundation. As I noted, today’s service was a surprise with the enacting the tradition of Ash Wednesday.
While not a bible scholar, I cannot find any reference to these Ash Wednesday rites (marking the forehead with palm ashes) in my bible; and some quick Google searches seem to indicate that this rite was introduced in the 5th century, along with some other Lenten customs like penitence, fasting. Yet; there are numerous references to putting ashes on ones head as a symbol of grief, just not that I could find in association with the concept of Lent.
I will agree, we should all grieve over the pain and suffering Jesus suffered on the cross to free us from wages of our sins, I am just afraid if we blindly accept, and/or assign new meanings to traditions of the subject nature, that are not bible based, we will soon be performing baptisms with a sprinkling can, and paying to be absolved our our sins.
OK, so I may be a little more of a “wuss” than you and a few of the other posters here, but I have decided to remove all beverages but water from my diet for the next week (and I drink LOTS of coffee and soda everyday). In addition, there are a few things that I couldn’t bring myself to give up, but rather then taking them for granted, I’m going to thank God repeatedly as I enjoy them throughout the week. These things include, my bed, my pillow, and hot showers (I had every intention of doing the cold shower thing, and just couldn’t bring myself to do it – which made me “feel” the pain of all of those around the world that regularly take cold showers).
Anyway, while the list of things that we are blessed with and take for granted could go one and on, I have chosen to focus on praise and thanksgiving for those few things.
Thanks again for challenging us to grow!
I am not sure where to begin and I certainly don’t want to come across as hypercritical and judgmental. I know that the practice of lent is a historical tradition followed by many large religious denominations. I realize that it can be used to help Christians reflect and draw closer to God and I pray that such is the case for your congregation as you are led and as you lead the sheep Christ has entrusted to you as they follow you into this Lenten Season. I grew up in the Greek Orthodox Church and have a long Orthodox family tradition. My grandfather was a godly man who prayed on his knees for hours every day. He loved Jesus with all his heart. I grew up participating in Lent. However, when I was thirteen, I gave my heart to Christ and I became a born-again Christian. It seemed as if I had been blind all those years and all of a sudden my spiritual eyes were opened! The scripture you quoted 1 John 5:21 took on a whole new meaning that day. I realized that all those man-made traditions that were meant to help me get closer to God were actually increasing the distance between He and I. Why? Because religion offered me a sense of spirituality without any substance. Lent had gotten in the way of my walk with Christ. I learned that Salvation is a free gift and that my works…giving up chocolate…coffee…etc…were shallow. True lent is an every day experience. We are to look inside our hearts everyday and reflect with openness and honesty. Perhaps some people need to put a certain measured number of days behind their reflection period prior to Easter. However, Jesus is resurrected yesterday, today and forever although we commemorate his resurrection on a Special Sunday of the month.
Perhaps you did not grow up in the Catholic or Orthodox Faith. My husband grew up Catholic and I grew up Orthodox. For both of us, receiving Christ involved leaving behind the man-made rituals and traditions that were meant to give us a sense of spirituality but never did anything for us in the long run. I feel that giving up coffee or taking cold showers is a superficial treatment of the real disease we have as people: we are sinners. I was saddened when lent was reduced to what it had always been: A weak attempt to give up something shallow to reflect upon the spiritual. I was distraught when ashes were placed on foreheads along with communion. I watched the people in line. Some of them were nervous. I heard comments to that affect. Some were confused. I was saddened. An as a former follower of one of the so-called high religions…I am telling you that returning to some of these traditions is a stumbling block to a lot of people that left them behind. Not that there is anything wrong with Ash Wednesday or Lent in and of itself, but I was saddened at the superficial treatment it received and I am saddened that we are turning to man-made traditions to get us closer to God instead of more of His Word. I am sorry if this sounds negative…it really isn’t meant to be…Our pastor was the most loving, godly example of Jesus my husband and I have ever met. He went to be with the Lord 6 months ago. We have been looking and praying for a new church ever since. It has been difficult trying to find a church where the minister teaches his congregation the reality of the Bible. Difficult finding ministries that rely on God’s Word and not their own interpretation of it. Difficult to find a church where the Bible receives more than a casual nod ( scripture here or there). People need more of God’s Word not more traditions. Please tread lightly and think long and hard if you start embracing some of these man-made traditions and make them part of your Church’s practice. This was submitted with my best intentions. I am deeply saddened.
It’s TV for me (http://www.christianstandard.com/2008/01/christian-churches-have-never-been-big.html),
for the whole time. I really miss LOST–and I’m really enjoying some quiet evenings catching up on the Bible and Francis Schaeffer.