Archives For Lent

You decide to take a two millennium poll of Christians on how to grow in holiness and conformity to Christ. In every century, you would find men and women pointing to the classic practices of prayer and scripture meditation; fasting, and giving to the poor. You would also find words like ‘nepsis’ (Greek for watchfulness), or vigilance, or alertness, or guarding the heart, or sobriety.

By SOBRIETY, they would mean moderation with substances – but more so – self-control in all areas.  “Restraint and moderation which avoids excess in passion (drives), rashness, or confusion.”

Here are some quotes and Scriptures, some of which were included in a recent sermon on “Sober Living.”   

   So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 1 Thes 5:6
   But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 1 Thes. 5:8

  As for you (Timothy), always be sober-minded 2 Tim. 4:5
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:13
   The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 1 Peter 4:7
   Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

   “Our holy fathers have renounced all other spiritual work and concentrated wholly on this one doing, that is, on guarding the heart, convinced that, through this practice, they would easily attain every other virtue, whereas without it not a single virtue can be firmly established.”
Symeon, the New Theologian

I certainly don’t model perfect faithfulness, but here are 3 things I hope to keep working on for the duration of my life:

1. A “Rule of Prayer.” Prayer and scripture disciplines are a place of constant reminder. This includes Psalms and other Bible reading and study; the Lord’s Prayer, the Jesus Prayer, and the Lenten prayer of Ephrem the Syrian. (I’ve linked previous posts that give more detail.)

2. No Secrets.  Hebrews 4:13 reminds us that everything is open and laid bare to God’s eyes. Living transparently with my wife (and close colleagues) is vital.

3. Aggressive Health Maintenance. We are whole people. Keeping the body strong and fit will reinforce the focus of the heart, soul, and mind.

QUESTION: WHAT DO YOU DO TO ‘STAY SOBER?’
Leave a comment.

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Lent Image-40daysThe “Lenten Prayer of Ephrem the Syrian” has become part of my regular prayer life. As I have done several times in the past – I “commend” it to you for your prayer (and repentance). The wording of the prayer is my latest version from much reading on the history of the prayer.  The commentary that follows is adapted from a commentary in Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent. (See my previous post on Lent)

Two practices that I am doing – and invite you to do – this Lenten season:
* to pray this prayer each morning or evening.

* to read and meditate through the letter of 1 Peter (which we will be preaching through at Christ Church starting next week).  Each day, I’ll post the short passage for the day on Twitter.  Feel free to “Follow” me here – or click the Twitter button on the right.

Here is the prayer – followed by the very insightful commentary:

O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of
apathy, despondency, ambition, and empty talk.
+++
But give rather the spirit of
purity, humility, patience, and love to Your servant.
+++
Yes, O Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother or sister;
For You are blessed forever, to ages of ages.  Amen!
+++

Continue Reading…

Lent Image-40daysThis week is the beginning of Lent in the Western Churches. As a Christian and as a church, I believe there are many things, such as the Christian seasonal rhythms, that we need to rediscover or re-energize with true meaning. Sometimes this means some un-learning of old thinking. For example:

Lent is NOT about ‘giving up’ things, whether substantial (like Facebook) or small (like Twitter?) Lent involves fasting but it’s not just about food and externals.

Lent is NOT about self-improvement by self-flagellation. It is practicing the spiritual disciplines in earnest – like spring training is to the whole season.

Lent is NOT a Roman Catholic idea – and therefore to be avoided by non-Roman Catholics. It is an early church practice observed by the Eastern Orthodox, many Western churches of all stripes, including the Evangelical Covenant Church of which I am a part.

Lent is NOT about legalistic, empty-headed rules. Though these have appeared at times in history, it is not inevitable that a sacred season become desecrated.

Enough of the power of negative thinking!  What is the antidote to shallow stereotypes of Lent?Alexander Schmemann puts it beautifully in his book, Great Lent, Journey to Pascha. (pp. 31-33)

“This ‘something else’ can best be described as an ‘atmosphere,’ a ‘climate’ into which one enters, as first of all a state of mind, soul, and spirit, which for seven weeks permeates our entire life. Let us stress once more that the purpose of Lent is not to force on us a few formal obligations, but to ‘soften’ our heart so that it may open itself to the realities of the spirit, to experience the hidden thirst and hunger for communion with God.”

He spoke of Lent as a ‘bright sadness.’
“…the sadness of my exile, of the waste I have made of my life; the brightness of God’s presence and forgiveness, the joy of the recovered desire for God, the peace of the recovered home.”

I’m reminded of Scott Cairns poem on repentance (Greek: Metanoia or ‘change of heart’).

The heart’s metanoia
on the other hand, turns
without regret, turns not
so much away, as toward,

as if the slow pilgrim
has been surprised to find
that sin is not so bad
as it is a waste of time!

(from Adventures in New Testament Greek: Metanoia, in Compass of Affection, Poems New and Selected)

DIG DEEPER:
Here is a thread of some previous posts on Lent and related topics:
Here is a PDF full of articles and resources to understand and practice the season.
QUESTION:
How will you and I enter these 40 days – to prepare again to ‘take in’ the Good News of Christ’s passion and victory through the disciplines of discipleship.
Let me urge you to prayerfully plan how you will fast and pray and read Scripture and be alert to the acts of compassion the Lord directs you to. The resources above can provide guidance.  Speak with your pastor or other spiritual guide or friend to help you.  “Keep yourself in training for a godly life!”
(1 Timothy 4:7b, GN)

The 40 day Journey known throughout much of Church history as Lent could be called the Christian disciple’s”Spring Training!” (Lent means “spring” or lengthening)  It’s getting ourselves more fit and strong and disciplined for the “regular season” of following Jesus. Sounds a little like a Game Plan! Continue Reading…

Some words on the topic of Food and Fasting in the Lenten season.  (adapted from web article on Fasting)

The purpose of fasting is to remind us of the Scriptural teaching, “Man does not live by bread alone.”  (Matthew 4:4) The needs of the body and the needs of the soul need to be held in tension. Above all else, we need God, Who provides everything for both the body and the soul. Fasting teaches us to depend on God more fully.

The first sin of our parents, Adam and Eve, was eating from the forbidden tree (Genesis 3:1-19). We fast from food, or a food item, as a reminder that we are to fast from sin­ing and doing evil.

There are several benefits of fasting. Fasting helps us pray more easily. Our spirit is lighter when we are not weighed down by too much food or food that is too rich. Through fasting, we also learn to feel compassion for the poor and hungry and to save our own resources so that we can help those in need.

Fasting is more than not eating food. John Chrysostom  (4th Century) teaches that it is more important to fast from sin. For example, besides controlling what goes into our mouths, we must control what comes out of our mouths as well. Are our words pleasing to God, or do we curse God or our brother?

The other members of the body also need to fast: our eyes from seeing evil, our ears from hearing evil, our limbs from participating in anything that is not of God. Most important of all, we need to control our thoughts, for thoughts are the source of our actions, whether good or evil.

Fasting is not an end in itself. Our goal is an inner transformation. Fasting is about “spiritual athletics” or disciplines which are central to training as a disciple.

Fasting is a spiritual exercise. It is not imposed or forced upon us. In the same way that true repentance cannot be forced upon anyone, each of us makes the choice to turn away from sinful ways and go toward our loving, forgiving Father in Heaven.

Some of you may be interested in listening to a podcast on Food and Faith – an interview with a Christian nutritionist on the teaching of the early church Fathers on food.

On a personal note, I’m really a novice at prolonged fasting.  I try to follow the traditional Orthodox practice of fasting from meat, animal products, olive oil, and wine (the last 2 permitted on weekends)  Everything in moderation all the time is the life-long goal of the food and faith connection.  So I’m enjoying more nuts and peanut butter, hummus and raw fruits and vegetables and less caffeine.  My snacks are definitely healthier! The vegetarians among us have a head start on good meal options!

More importantly, I want to become more alert to God.  That constant need I have as a disciple for the New Testament word “nepsis” –  to be WATCHFUL and ATTENTIVE – to give my attention to Him at all times.

The 40 day Journey known throughout much of Church history as Lent could be called the Christian disciple’s “Spring Training!” (Lent means “spring”)  It’s getting ourselves more fit and strong and disciplined for the “regular season” of following Jesus.

In the Scriptures the number 40 relates to the period spent in the Ark by Noah, the period spent by Israel seeking the Promised Land after the Exodus, and the amount of time Jesus was in the Wilderness after his baptism and prior to beginning his ministry. For us, the Season of Lent is an invitation to 40 days of renewal, 40 days to prepare ourselves to take in the Good News of Easter through deeper disciplines of prayer, fasting, and acts of compassion. We want to pass on some suggestions for making the most of this 40 day season leading up to Easter. (Check back to this blog for more reflections on the journey and please feel free to add your own comments and ways God is working in you.)

Lent begins in the West with Ash Wednesday – that includes a service of repentance and humility; the ashes reminding us of the brevity of life.  Scripture readings include Psalm 51, Psalm 103, Joel 2, Matthew 6:1-21.  (At Christ Church we meet Tuesday eve. at 7 pm and Wednesday morning at 7 am)

For Scripture Readings, this year I’m following the Eastern church practice of working through not only the Psalms (which I seek to do monthly anyway), but also:
Genesis – creation and fall of humanity
Proverbs – one each week day, a dose of the Divine Wisdom
Isaiah – chapters  1-12 and 40-66, the “Old Testament Gospel”
Hebrews – read slowly to understand the unfolding drama of salvation from the Old Testament and unveiled in the New.

For several years we have taught and prayed the  4th Century Prayer of Ephraim the Syrian.

O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth and apathy,
faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity and wholeness,
humility, patience, and love to Your servant.
O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother;
For You are blessed forever, to ages of ages.  Amen

You may want to incorporate this into your prayer time each day along with the Lord’s Prayer and meditate on it as a kind of checklist of those things that both poison and energize the spiritual life. (click here for a beautiful commentary explaining it)

For Sundays, plan to follow the texts being preached on in Sunday worship, mostly from the Gospel of Matthew.  Or if you want to camp out in Matthew for these 40 days you can access Lent for Everyone – readings and commentary by N.T. Wright based on the first gospel and available through YouVersion software (and available in APP form) from LifeChurch.tv.

Fasting is a part of Lent. Fasting and Giving compassionately remind us that the body is good and is not separated from our spiritual life.  Our misuse of the body and eating can weigh down the spirit instead of assisting us in our growth.  “Fasting of the body is food for the soul.” (John Chrysostom) Fasting that does not lead to caring for others in need and greater patience and compassion is not genuine.  Going without, should give us more capacity for worship, prayer, giving, and compassion.  Fasting that does not lead to transformation from anger to gentleness; cruelty to generosity…a more Christ-like spirit – is useless!

More on fasting suggestions to come.

This Holy Week – Thursday and Friday at Christ Church, the building was transformed into a series of Tableaus or still and dramatic scenes.  The tableau pictured here is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Below are words I wrote for the program. It seeks to capture the Spirit’s many colored gifts at work in the Body of Christ – employing all the senses and again celebrating the arts in the Christian community.
Well over 100 volunteers and staff worked amazing hours
with a real sense of joy and service to Christ.

Tonight we experience with all the senses
scenes from Holy Week;
from the entry into Jerusalem to the cross.

God created and came into His world.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Tonight we enter the climactic scenes of
The Story We Find Ourselves In
through words of Scripture;
music in voice and instruments;
art born of imagination, canvas, and paint;
drama, alive and still;
set design and costumes;
sacrament of bread and cup;
prayer and silent contemplation;
awe and wonder.


He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross,
so that free from sins, we might live for righteousness;
by his wounds you have been healed.
For you were going astray like sheep,
but now you have returned
to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

(1 Peter 2:24-25)