One of my pastors offered the worship team a challenge on Ash Wednesday at our monthly meeting. I accepted.
Lent definition according to Dictionary.com:
(in the Christian religion) an annual season offasting and penitence in preparation for Easter,beginning on Ash Wednesday and lasting 40weekdays to Easter, observed by Roman Catholic,Anglican, and certain other churches.
According to Miriam Webster Dictionary:
: a period of 40 days before Easter during which many Christians do not eat certain foods or do certain pleasurable activities as a way of remembering the suffering of Jesus Christ
There was a time that I thought the whole Lent thing was just for Catholics (which I am not). I was raised in a Missionary Baptist church, so it “didn’t apply to me”. Catholics I encountered seemed to be all about legalism, technicality, and ritual. The only Catholic service I’d attended was with a friend in high school. It was not positive. The priest read something to us, not Scripture, and there were times to say something back, but only what was written for me to say. The priest said something that I knew was not biblically sound. My friend had to shush me (a few times) and keep me from raising my hand. I was used to being able to speak freely in church. I was even told they discouraged reading the bible yourself. So I had a very negative, judgmental opinion of Catholics.
I now realize that if we are in the body of Christ (meaning, we accept His gift of eternal life through the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross and choose to follow Jesus’ example of living to serve), denomination doesn’t matter. Religion is man-made, following Jesus is a lifestyle and relationship with the One and only Creator. There will be people in heaven….not Baptists ; not Catholics; not Lutherans; not “you fill in the blank”s……..people, like you and me. I bet we’ll actually be shocked to see some of them 😉
Anyhow, the challenge is to study the book of John for the 40 days of Lent (I’ll attach the reading plan for you later. It’s good even a week or so late). Now, I’ve read the book of John MANY times. In fact, sometimes we do something so often and if we don’t take care to absorb what we are reading, we become complacent. That is the point of this plan, to meditate on it….to chew it well before ingesting…to apply It’s truth…to be doers not just hearers (James 1:22)…..to allow it to impact our lives.
This morning’s reading was in John chapter 5. Go read it yourself, but for this post here is a summary of verses 1-9:
Jesus and His disciples head to Jerusalem for a feast, where there is this pool with 5 porches (I imagine you can fit a LOT of sick, blind, lame and broken people in that much space). Sometimes, an angel comes and stirs the water. Whoever gets in first gets healed….but, only one. Jesus approaches a guy that He knows has been suffering a debilitating problem for 38 years (only 4 years less than I’ve been alive) and asks him what, on the surface, seems like a really rude and ridiculous question, “Do you want to be healed?”. The man promptly whines at Jesus, “No one will do it for me by picking me up and putting me in, so I keep missing my chance”. Jesus tells the guy to get up and walk and he’s healed.
“Do you want to be healed?”…..seems like one of those “well, duh!” moments doesn’t it? But is it really?
Sometimes it’s so much easier to say it’s someone else’s fault for what is happening in our lives; to point a finger and say, “well, if so-and-so had been there for me things would be different“, “if I’d had help, I could actually get somewhere in life”, “if my parents would’ve been better parents, my life would’ve been easier”, “if they hadn’t done this, I wouldn’t have done that”. The list can go on and on. But the time comes when we have to decide to take action or continue wallowing in self-pity (like the rich man in Matthew 19). When God gives us a solution it might not be what we want to hear. Excuses rise in us and the blame game ensues if we aren’t willing to change our perspective and see our part in things.
I believe this was the reason it took me so long to quit smoking (cigarette free for 4 ½ years now!!). I actually blamed others for my addiction to tobacco. “If he’d stop making me angry, I would quit“, “If my friends didn’t do it, I wouldn’t crave it” and of course my favorite, “If I wasn’t so stressed out, I would do stop”. The fact is that I loved smoking. I loved the “break” of it….the “reward” system I had set up for myself. Despite my insistence that it was other’s behavior causing my addiction, my real problem was me. Not a one of them stuck a cigarette in my mouth, lit it and kick-started my lungs.
I’m so thankful that if we let God grow us into who He intended us to be, He will save us from one of our worst enemies…..ourselves. Like the song “Where would I be without You” by Citizen Way says, “My foolish heart lead to trouble , but I followed anyway. I’d be one big disappointment if You hadn’t rescued me from me”. When we let our hearts deceive us , we can be overcome with doubt and fear and it can keep us from doing what we need to do ourselves.
I still get it though, in other parts of my life. Sometimes I allow me to get in my way. With the loss of most of the use of my right hand, I fall into that trap at random and decide I’m not able to do things before I even try. I feel sorry for myself and give up on dreams and goals. For instance, learning archery has been on my “list of things to do in life”……obviously a two-handed sport. Instead of admitting defeat I am going to learn anyway. I had given up hope, but after a long talk with the guy at the sporting goods store, I now see that what seemed impossible is now TOTALLY doable. It’s just going to look different. Same with playing the guitar, too. I’m not giving it up like the surgeon rudely suggested, it’s just gonna look different. I don’t have to play for anyone but God so it can be soft. I can also change the rhythms in my written songs…they don’t have to include finger picking and slap-rhythms. God said to make a joyful noise (Psalm 81)….not achieve perfection. It’s about doing what I can do.
“Say hey, hey wake your heart
And break, break, break apart
The walls that keep you from being you
And walk, walk towards the light
And don’t stop ’till you live your life
Like someone died for you
This is the time to try
Step out your life is waiting
And as you fall you’ll find
That you can fly” -Superchick, “This is the time”