Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A 48-year-old PresbyBaptiCostal chick Learns about Lent

A couple of years ago, I felt the Holy Spirit leading me for the first time to participate in the ancient observance known as Lent.

Of course, growing up in the Kimberly Church of God, I'd never even heard of such a thing. I didn't even know what a Catholic looked like until I got to Mortimer Jordan High School--turns out the two of them looked a lot like me...only thinner...all that fasting I guess.

If Jay Leno had walked up to me on Stouts Road and said, "What do you know about Lent?"...I would have said, "It's that stuff you have to clean out of the dryer and...sometimes...out of your bellybutton."

But, as I flipped the page of my calendar two years ago, the words "Ash Wednesday" sort of leaped out at me every time I wrote down some new appointment or reminder. I'm learning that, when things like that happen, it's usually the Holy Spirit's "finger" poking me, saying, "Pay attention here...I want to show you something."

So, I started praying about it, and the desire to "do Lent" only became stronger. Since I was a newbie at this thing, and a member of a Southern Baptist congregation least I think...everyone else is as clueless about Lent as I was, I asked God to send me a friend to share this journey.

And, just like Him, He sent me two--Janie and Marla. In fact, my friend Janie called me out of the clear blue sky on a cold rainy day and asked, “What are you doing for Lent?” (Now, to the best of my memory, in our 20+-year friendship, we’d never even spoken about Lent.) It was one of those “God moments” where I just stood there with the phone to my ear feeling the grin of God. It let me know that His “I want to show you something” had already begun.

That year, I shared with my boys that I would be giving up some things for awhile (don't even remember now what I fasted that year), and I just wanted them to understand what was going on. Well...surprise...they announced that they wanted to tag along on my Lenten journey.

I tried to explain to them that it wasn't just a "game," and that the fasting involved was simply an outward way of encouraging a spiritual hunger...a hunger to know more about God and His desires for us and from us. But, they wouldn't be deterred by my rather negative warnings.

(It's been kind of funny to see how many of their little Baptist friends have joined them in their Lenten journey. I keep expecting to get a phone call or, worse, a letter.)

In response to Janie's question, "What are you doing for Lent?"...I bought her and me a book to use for devotions--"Bread and Wine, Readings for Lent and Easter." This book introduced me to voices I had never heard before--William Willimon, Walter Wangerin, Christina Rossetti, Madeleine L'Engle, Frederick Buechner...just to name a few.

Not to say that I agree with everything these new voices say to me but, somehow, they enlarge my small little heart.

So, today...Ash Wednesday...I thought I'd share a small morsel from "mine and Janie's" book: "
Whatever the gospel means, we tell ourselves,
it could not mean death....
The first week of Lent begins with old John the Baptist.
His sermons could not be entitled, 'Be Good to Yourself."
This prophetic 'voice crying in the wilderness' not the Christ.
John is the one who gets us ready. (But,) how does one prepare...?
Repent, change your ways and get washed.
(The Baptist) will let us take no comfort
in our rites, tradition or ancestry.
Everybody must submit to be made over.
Everybody must descend into the waters,
especially the religiously secure and morally sophisticated.
How shocked the church was (and is) to see its Lord
appear on the banks of the Jordan asking John to wash him too.
(Matt. 3:14-15)
How can it be that the Holy One of God
should be rubbing shoulders with naked sinners
on their way into the waters?...
(Jesus') message is not the simple one of the Baptist, "Be clean."
Jesus' word is more painful--"Be killed."
The washing of this baptism is not cheap.
'You must consider yourselves dead,' Paul tells the Romans (6:11).
In Jesus' baptism, the 'old Adam' is drowned.
Discipleship is more than turning over a new leaf.
It is more fitful and disorderly than gradual moral formation.
Nothing less than daily, often painful, lifelong death will do.
Paul seems to know not whether to call
what happened to him on the Damascus Road
'birth' or 'death'--it felt like both at the same time....
We may come singing 'Just As I Am,'
but we will not stay by being our same old selves....
the lures of the world are too seductive...
the status quo too alluring.
It is the air we breathe, the food we eat, the 6:30 news,
our institutions, theologies and politics.
The only way we shall break its hold on us is to be...
cut loose from our old certainties,
to be thrust under the flood and pulled forth fresh and newborn....
On the bank of some dark river, as we are thrust backward,
onlookers will remark, 'You could kill somebody like that.'
To which old John might say, 'Good, you're finally catching on'."
("Repent" by William Willimon)
From Colossians 3, The Message:
Your old life is dead.
Your new life, which is your real life—
even though invisible to spectators—
is with Christ in God. He is your life.
When Christ (your real life, remember)
shows up again on this earth,
you'll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you....
And that means killing off everything connected
with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust,
doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it,
and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy.
That's a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.
It's because of this kind of thing
that God is about to explode in anger.
It wasn't long ago
that you were doing all that stuff not knowing any better.
But you know better now, so make sure it's gone for good:
bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.
Don't lie to one another. You're done with that old life.
It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes
you've stripped off and put in the fire.
Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe.
Every item of your new way of life
is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it.
All the old fashions are now obsolete.
Words like Jewish and non-Jewish,
religious and irreligious,
insider and outsider,
uncivilized and uncouth,
slave and free, mean nothing.
From now on everyone is defined by Christ,
everyone is included in Christ.
So, chosen by God for this new life of love,
dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you:
compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.
Be even-tempered, content with second place,
quick to forgive an offense.
Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.
And regardless of what else you put on, wear love.
It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other,
in step with each other.
None of this going off and doing your own thing.
And cultivate thankfulness.
Let the Word of Christ—the Message—
have the run of the house.
Give it plenty of room in your lives.
Instruct and direct one another using good common sense.
And sing, sing your hearts out to God!
Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—
be done in the name of the Master, Jesus,
thanking God the Father every step of the way.
Wives, understand and support your husbands
by submitting to them in ways that honor the Master.
Husbands, go all out in love for your wives.
Don't take advantage of them.
Children, do what your parents tell you.
This delights the Master no end.
Parents, don't come down too hard on your children
or you'll crush their spirits.
Servants, do what you're told by your earthly masters.
And don't just do the minimum that will get you by.
Do your best.
Work from the heart for your real Master, for God,
confident that you'll get paid in full
when you come into your inheritance.
Keep in mind always
that the ultimate Master you're serving is Christ.
The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible.
Being a follower of Jesus doesn't cover up bad work.

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