Going Old School-

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 that there is only one way to God (Jesus). 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.

 It’s just that I (like most Christians) 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, 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 thing. Nor was Lent intended to be a Christian weight-loss plan or a second-shot at abandoned New Years resolutions. Lent is one of the oldest customs of the Christian faith; and I for one believe it merits a 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 Catholicism stopped doing it, and many Catholics lost touch with the 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 has passed. That said, I am persuaded that God doesn’t get stuck on dates or numbers. He sees the heart and it’s not too late to prepare 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.

 God just might do something really big and really meaningful in your life this Easter season.

 

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.