Why Every Christian Ought to Observe Lent-

So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover~ Matthew 26:19 NIV

 I am a Protestant Evangelical.

 It’s not that I feel Protestants or Evangelicals or Protestant Evangelicals have the market cornered on truth. I don’t. Nor do I believe Christians who practice their faith differently than I do are immoral, evil or misled in some way.

 I do believe Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). However, I also believe that there are many methods available to learn about and worship God. As long as the worship and learning is done in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24) I am generally pretty cool with it.

 That being said.  I, like most human beings gravitate towards the familiar and comfortable and the Evangelical world is familiar and comfortable to me.

 I became a Christian in a Protestant Evangelical Church and over the years I have come to appreciate (for the most part, more on this later) the no-frills approach to Christianity that Protestant Evangelicalism offers.

 Back in the day I was the executive director of a Pregnancy Care Center in a small town. One of my responsibilities was to visit the Churches that supported our ministry at least once a year and update them on our progress. As a result I have attended just about every classification of Christian church imaginable. From Catholic to Baptist to Oneness Pentecostal, if a denomination worships Jesus and supports pro-life causes I have probably had the pleasure of worshipping there at least once.

It was during those years that discovered how much I love the minimalism of the Protestant experience. I like the fact that I don’t have to approach some Saint and have them forward my prayers to Jesus or confess my sins to a third party to get them forgiven.

 I love that Evangelicals love the Bible and hold it in such high regard. I also love that Protestant Evangelicals believe that all Christians are capable of reading, understanding and interpreting the Bible for themselves. I am a straightforward girl and I appreciate a straightforward approach to the faith.

 However.

 There is one day out of the year when I truly envy the formality, pageantry and ritual of the Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions.

 Easter.

 I’m just going to go ahead and say it.

 Protestants are remarkably terrible at making the Easter season as spiritually meaningful as it deserves to be. Sadly, Evangelical Protestants take the terribleness to a whole new level.

 In most Protestant Evangelical churches the actual church service is memorable and distinctive. There’s a special sermon, thematic music and some churches even put on a passion play. That said, I have found that generally the season of Easter comes and goes with all the heralding of a drive-by shooting. The lack of spiritual preparation and lead-up to Easter inevitably causes Jesus to take a back seat to the bunnies, candy, egg hunts and ham.

 In an effort to end the madness, a few years ago I decided to rip a page from my Catholic and Orthodox friends’ playbook and partake in the season of Lent.

 Contrary to popular opinion, Lent is not nor has it ever been a strictly Catholic or Eastern Orthodox custom or practice. Lent is one of the oldest traditions of the Christian faith; and I for one believe the practice merits a strong comeback in Evangelical circles.

 The original intent of Lent was to set aside a time of spiritual preparation, self-examination and repentance prior to Easter Sunday. Traditionally, Lent involves forty days of fasting (a meal or a particular food), reading through at least one of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) and an increased level of prayer.

 Christians have been practicing Lent since as early as the beginning of the second century. Sadly, sometime around the 15th Century Lent became associated with Catholicism and the act of fasting. Protestants who wanted to dissociate themselves from the excesses of Catholicism stopped practicing it, and many Catholics lost touch with the whole point of Lent and as a result some of the significance of Easter season has been lost for all of us. 

 The official start of Lent is today (Ash Wednesday). Today is the day to begin preparing your heart for the most significant day on the Christian calendar. Choose something to fast from, dust off your Bible, do some in-depth spiritual self-examination and pick a few topics to pray about from now until the Wednesday before Easter.

 Then trust God to do something really big and really meaningful in your life this Easter season.

 

Parenting 101- Foundations

The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock~ Matthew 7:25

 

Like many couples, my husband and I have entirely different priorities when it comes to house hunting. I am all about cute. I look for original wood floors, unique details, and lots and lots of windows. My husband worked in construction for years and has a far more practical (read: boring) bent; he is concerned with the condition of the roof, the energy efficiency of all those windows I am in love with, and—of course—the location.

 An older home with original molding, distinctive features and a front porch roomy enough for two rocking chairs will leave me swooning and impatient to commit. Until my practical hubby kills the moment by pointing out that my dream home has no garage, a vintage furnace, and is located between an all-night liquor store and a vacant lot scattered with hypodermic needles and evidence of a homeless camp.

 If we are lucky enough to find a house cute enough for me and sensible enough for my husband, the next step is a trip to the basement for a thorough inspection of the foundation. My man has been known to spend an hour checking over every square inch of the foundation searching for cracks and other evidence of weaknesses. If I had a dollar for every house that has been crossed of our list on the basis of a questionable foundation, I could quite possibly double the down payment on our next house.

 As vexing as I find my husband’s practicality, I do understand where he is coming from. Flooring can be changed; location cannot. A faulty foundation takes buckets of money and a Herculean effort to repair.

 Houses are not the only things built on a foundation. The character of our kids is built on a foundation. The foundation we build when our children are young will go a long way in determining the outcome of their lives.

 There are three components necessary to build a solid foundation in the life of our kids. It all starts with:

 Authority

 The daily skirmishes with your two- to seven-year-old child are not about what they appear to be about. It might feel as if you are simply having a difference of opinion over food choices, personal hygiene, bedtime, organization and obedience. In reality you are in a battle with your child over who exactly is going to be the leader in your home. You win it by kindly but assertively making the decisions about what is going to happen in your home, giving controlled choices and clear explanations for your decisions. Success will establish you and your spouse as the principal authority figures in your child’s life. This will prepare the child to accept and submit to the authority of teachers, coaches, police officers, bosses and God. If you lose, your child will become the default leader in your relationship dynamic and as a result every rule and request you make will be tested, either actively or passively (depending on the personality of your child) and your child will never respect you or any other authority figure, including God.

 Spiritual and ethical training

 Every kid needs to understand that they are not the center of the universe and that other people matter as much as they do. We communicate this reality by teaching them to not just to love God, but also to obey Him, and teaching them biblical standards of right and wrong. Without a healthy fear of God and fixed standards to guide them, kids grow into adults driven not by reason, concern for others, or virtue, but by their own egos, appetites and passions.

 Love

 Love as described in 1st Corinthians 13 is central to Christian parenting. Without love, our efforts to assert our parental authority will be perceived by our kids as cruel and controlling. Teaching kids to obey God’s precepts without modeling His love and grace in our daily interactions will lead to a skewed perception of and eventual rejection of God. Too many parents in our culture love their children extravagantly, all the while forgetting that love, if not combined with biblical training and appropriate respect for authority, produces a lonely, unhappy, self-absorbed adult.

 Successful parents look at the big picture. Good parenting is not about making kids happy every minute of the day. Good parenting is about preparing kids for the future and teaching them right from wrong. It takes a combination of authority, moral instruction and love to get the job done.

 

 

      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

The Season of Fresh Starts and New Beginnings

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead~ 1st Peter 1:3

 I am not a heathen. Really, I’m not.

 I am a Christian and I genuinely love Jesus. I am far from perfect and I gave up long ago pretending that I have life all figured out. That said, I do take the practice of my faith seriously. I read the Bible. I believe the Bible and I do my level best to do what the Bible tells me to do. I am involved in my local church and I pray. I do all this consistently and for the most part cheerfully.

 Nevertheless, I have a confession to make.

 In spite of all my noble intentions and best efforts, I am horrible with Easter.

 It’s really very sad. Most years the most holy and significant day on the Christian calendar passes me by without me giving it the thought and consideration that the season clearly deserves. I am not proud of this but it is what it is.  

 It’s not that I don’t celebrate the holiday. The celebration is actually a big part of the problem. Our church has all sorts of outreach and activity going on around Easter, and I do want to be involved in all of the goings-on. Then there’s the effort I go through to make the day special for my family.

 We don’t do the Easter bunny thing, but I do make baskets for each of my kids (including the graduate student) and we have a special meal that usually includes a cross shaped cake or some other edible object lesson. None of the Easter activity is wrong and much of it is actually beneficial but it does take time and mental energy that detracts from spiritual reflection.

 I determined that this year would be different.

 And for the most part things have been better this year. I have worked to be more intentional about setting aside time just to think about and meditate on the significance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The mediation has included some Bible reading and one morning last week I ran across this gem in the book of Ephesians.

 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms~ Ephesians 1:18-20

 At first, the writer in me was simply struck by the beauty of his words. The Apostle Paul certainly knew how to construct a sentence. His writing style never fails to blow my mind. But his words do a whole lot more than paint an appealing picture in our minds. They impart a powerful truth: the very same power that raised Jesus to life is readily available to those who put their faith in Jesus.

 As I considered this verse it occurred to me that few of us actually see the mighty strength of Jesus resurrection power in our day-to-day lives. Many convert to Christianity only to walk away when they find themselves disheartened by the lack of power they have to change and become the people God promises they can be.

 There are at least two explanations for the lack of power many of us experience as Christians. The first has to do with the will. Many simply don’t have the spine to deal with the one issue that everybody has to deal with if they want to see God work powerfully in their lives.

 That issue is sin.

 Hebrews describes sin as a thing that entangles. Sin, if left unchecked in the life of a believer, wraps itself around us, stunting our growth and progress as Christians (Hebrews 12:1). Jesus was so adamant about believers dealing with their sin in a decisive fashion that he used some intense though hyperbolic language to advocate doing whatever necessary to deal assertively with any and every sin (Matthew 5:29).

 Lack of faith will also hold believers back from seeing God’s power work in their lives. Faith is double-sided. Genuine faith does not simply believe that God exists. Saving faith also believes that God will do the things He promises He will do in His word. Sin and faith are closely linked; many have no problem imagining God’s existence but they can’t quite buy into the notion that God actually hates sin. Believing in God is not enough to see His power in our lives. We must also believe that He means what He says.

 Easter is the season of new beginnings and fresh starts. God is always willing to give us one if we are willing. Get yours today by reaching out in faith to the God who loved you enough to die for you.