Archive for the ‘church calendar’ Category

Why Lent?

Today is Ash Wednesday, the traditional beginning of the Lenten season and the time when small wars break out around the Protestant household over whether or not the season should be a part of the Christian calendar.

Many argue (quite plausibly it seems to me) that we should learn from the calendar God established for His people under the Old Covenant, which had only one day of fasting set apart each year (and it was surrounded by numerous days of feasting). If, they say, this was the case prior to the coming of our Savior (and the inauguration of the new heavens and new earth, the days of “continual feasting”) why would we institute a season of 40 days of “fasting”? And, I think I agree — assuming that Lent is celebrated as a 40 day fast. But the question is, “Is this how Lent should be celebrated?” I don’t think so.

I know that traditionally, Christians have “given up” something for Lent and usually that “something” has been something they particularly enjoy. This may be seen as a form of “fasting” I guess, but if it is, it’s a very pale shadow of what “fast” (doing without food of any kind) really means. I understand the rationale for the practice, but given it’s very limited focus, it seems to me to miss the point of fasting in general and is easily metamorphosed into something like a “Pharisaical” act (i.e. “God surely must be pleased with me since He sees me foregoing my usual afternoon grande chocolate-caramel-cinnamon mocha latte with extra foam, which I’m absolutely dying to have right now!”).

This is — probably unintentionally, but it is all the same — a distortion of the whole purpose of fasting. We fast to remind ourselves of the seriousness of our sins. Our sins are a high-handed insult to the gracious, loving God who made us. They are so grievous that we deserve no good thing from God — indeed, we deserve to starve to death. Fasting should have the same effect upon our attitude toward sin that spanking is designed to produce in our children — i.e. it should impress upon us that sin is bad, painful, worthy of death, and that I ought to hate it and stay away from it. I’m not sure that giving up Godiva chocolate for forty days always has the same effect.

So, unless the congregation is going to engage in a corporate fast for a particular reason or you decide to set a day aside for a real fast (which means no food for 24 hours or at least until sundown), I’m not sure that these lite fasts mean a great deal — and we probably are better off without them. But that’s a different matter than saying that Lent is evil or unprofitable. (more…)

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Each year at this time questions arise regarding the celebration of Halloween and if Christians should participate in it. Many Christians view Halloween as an expression of Satan-worship (with all its pagan roots and fruits). I’m sympathetic and certainly agree that not every practice connected with Halloween should be tolerated or imitated. Christians clearly, must be careful and thoughtful here and guard against the spirit of the world which does in fact worship Satan (though often unawares). But that’s only half the work. The other half involves refusing to allow Satan to get credit for things that don’t belong to him.

It is interesting how Satan works. He is not creative. He does not invent things. But he is expert in twisting good things into instruments of evil. He is a genius when it comes to perversion — turning things upside down. He loves to take the things of God and twist them into instruments of ungodliness.

The Church’s job in many ways comes down to turning everything that has been turned upside down by sin and Satan, rightside up again. Reconciliation means upturning those things that have been overturned by sin and twisted into instruments of unrighteousness, so that they bring glory to God again. This is precisely what the Church has done in regard to sensuality and sexuality. Over the years the Church has performed the service of re-instructing the world regarding the truth and proper place of the family, the arts, entertainment, business and labor, and many other fields of human endeavor.

But we must not forget that the Church has had to do this because it has itself been deceived and misled by Satan concerning these things. And such is the case, at least in part, with the celebration of Halloween. (more…)

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Today is the last day of Epiphany (Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday) and tomorrow is the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday). Most Christians see no problems with celebrating Christmas and Easter and the feasts that come with these two major celebrations, Epiphany and Pentecost. It’s the times of preparation for these two major feasts (Christmas and Easter) that are questioned, Advent and Lent (and especially Lent). And it’s understandable. It seems that the only reasons we hear for observing Lent are wrong reasons (e.g., we should give up meat to honor the animals who provide so much food for us gluttonous Americans; therefore we all ought to observe Lent by eating a piece of celery and saving a cow’s life — at least for 40 more days). And if it’s not something really dumb, the reason seems to center around atoning for our sins by acts of self-denial (in some way or another). No wonder people are suspicious of Lent.

Lent is the season set aside by the Church as a time of preparation for the feast of Easter. This season lasts 40 days (not counting Sundays). In the Scripture, the number forty is the number associated with trials. Lent is a time for self-examination. It is to be a time when we recall that our sins made the sufferings and death of Jesus necessary. Thus, it is a time when we as the people of God give special attention to repentance (confessing our sins and devoting ourselves to new obedience). There are, of course, right ways and wrong ways to do this, but the emphasis is a good one.

But someone says, “So why do we need Lent to examine ourselves and repent? Aren’t we supposed to do that year round?” Of course, we should repent of our sins and seek spiritual growth at all times, not just during this season. But I could ask the same question in regard to Christmas or Easter. Why have a special season to focus upon the incarnation or the resurrection? Shouldn’t we remember the incarnation and the resurrection every day? Sure we should. But Christmas and Easter give us the opportunity to focus upon these amazing realities and celebrate them. They call us to meditate upon the glory of God becoming man and breaking the power of sin and death — and thus, they help us to remember them every day. Lent does a similar thing. It gives us a stated season, a formal structure for all of us to examine ourselves and repent of our sins as individuals and as a church. Lent underscores for us the importance of dealing with our sins so that we don’t ignore them the rest of the year. And it gives us an occasion to do this together, in communion.

Lent, therefore, is a time for focusing upon our sins, a time for asking questions about our spiritual health: What are my besetting sins, and how can I work and pray for change? What idols have captured my imagination so that my love for the living God has grown cold? In what ways is my devotion to Christ and his church less than wholehearted? The Lenten season is like an annual physical. It’s an annual checkup on the well-being of our hearts and lives. (more…)

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The approach of Lent has provoked discussion among some friends about the appropriateness of it all. Should we do it? What’s the value? I’m throwing out some thoughts that are not fully formed or set so, feel free to challenge them, but it seems to me there is a wisdom in the ecclesiastical calendar that we see reflected in way God has ordained for time to pass each year: dressed in the garb of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall.

There are rhythms of life that are inescapable and absolutely essential. We would be worn to a nub if it was “always winter and never Christmas” — or if every day was a celebration or if there were no celebrations at all. If every day is the same, then life loses it’s mystery and glory.

Our lives follow the rhythm and pattern God has put into the seasonal cycle for most of the world. Winter is a necessary prelude to and preparation for the new life of Spring. Plowing and planting are essential if there is to be a Summer of growth and development into fruitful maturity. And without the growth of Summer there could never be the glorious finale of Fall with its harvests and in-gatherings.

We see this same general cycle in our lives. We are born “out of the darkness” of the womb and have a season of preparation and training. Seeds are planted in our youth and manhood which grow and bear fruit as we grow in maturity during our “Summer” years. Then, we reach the season of in-gathering. The labor of our lives begins to bring in the harvest (both joyful and disappointing) as we see the fruit of our labors and the results of our lives and examples mirrored and lived out in the lives of our children and their children. Finally, we come to the “wintertime” of our days. Our strength diminishes, the color is lost from our heads (either through baldness or grayness), our limbs lose their vigor and we prepare for the last night before the new dawn of eternal Spring. (more…)

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