Lent: Is Your Life a Feast or Famine?

By Eugene C. Scott

Easter Worship at Red Rocks Amphitheater

Several months after God first grabbed me by the heart (I was fifteen years old), I attended an Easter sunrise service at Red Rocks Amphitheater in the foothills west of Denver. Suddenly colored eggs, chocolate bunnies, and new Easter outfits paled as symbols of a holiday that affirms the resurrection and forgiving power of Jesus Christ. I remember–still–how guilt and shame, self hate and fear slid off my heart like a winter crust slides off a blade of spring grass. With Jesus living in me, my life switched from an old, grainy, black and white movie to full living color. Everything–sight, sound, joy, pain–reverberated with an edge, a flavor, that jolted me. As a musician who was popular back then, Phil Keaggy, sings, I felt

 

“Like waking up from the longest dream,

how real it seemed,

Until Your love broke through

I was lost in a fantasy

That blinded me,

Until Your love broke through.”

That Easter in 1973 I realized the reality of God’s love breaking into my life and beginning a revolution. Freedom reigned. My heart danced as my life became a whirlwind of much-needed change. Tragically, my list of sins to abandon was quite impressive for a mere fifteen-year-old, especially since I abandoned the same sins multiple times. Slowly my struggle against sin transformed my Christian life from a joyous explosion of forgiveness into a smoldering list of forbidden actions I never fully managed to avoid. Christianity lost its life and became an oppressive duty.

Don’t get me wrong. The Bible clearly communicates that sin makes us incompatible with God and the banquet he has planned for us. Drug abuse, lying, gossip, skipping school, and the like were good things to give up. But when Christianity degenerates into a constant striving against life, it loses its power for life. My freedom in Christ was swallowed by guilt and fear and dos and don’ts.

There’s a story about a Presbyterian who moved into a Catholic neighborhood. Each Friday he grilled himself a steak. His neighbors were sorely tempted as they dined on their traditional fish. Soon the Catholics took matters into their own hands and converted the Presbyterian to their flavor of Christianity. That following Sunday the Priest sprinkled water on the man saying, “You were born a Presbyterian, raised a Presbyterian, but now you are a Catholic.” His neighbors welcomed him into the fold warmly.

But that next Friday they were drawn to the new convert’s deck by the aroma of a tantalizing steak. As they stepped onto his deck, they saw him sprinkling a slab of meat with A1 saying, “You were born a cow, raised a cow, but now you are a fish.”

That joke betrays an all too common belief among Christians–Presbyterian, Catholic, Independent, whatever–that Christianity is comprised of rites, rituals, traditions, and laws. Therefore our faith becomes that which Jesus died to save it from: outward expressions of inward emptiness: legalism.

Next week millions of Christians worldwide will begin looking toward Easter and remembering the resurrection of Jesus by participating in the season of Lent.  Unfortunately, as beautiful and meaningful as Lent can be, for many it teeters on becoming the modern poster child for an empty legalistic faith. On Ash Wednesday thousands will begin a fast in which they will give up chocolate, soda, TV, or something similar.

The prophet Samuel confronted Israel’s first king, Saul, with these words: “To obey is better than sacrifice.”

What’s the difference between obedience and sacrifice? Obedience stipulates an inward desire to do what God has commanded not outward acquiescence. Jesus said, if we love him we will obey his words. Obedience is a response of love to God’s love. Further, obedience is taking God’s word in and then living it out. Jesus illustrated this with the story of a house that has been swept clean of its demons. But then, because the house remained empty, many more demons rushed back in. Obedience then is an outward expression of an inward fullness. Sacrifice often is an outward expression of an inward emptiness.

Fasting has its purpose: to remind us of our need for God. But be honest. Did giving up sweets last Lent really fill you with a deeper love for our Savior? My daughter once wondered why we don’t instead add something to our lives during Lent. In other words, embrace–take in–the good things God has for each of us. And if you choose to fast, give something up, that is not healthy for you, replace it with something that is. This Easter add the fullness of the Holy Spirit to your life. Instead of fasting, feast. Dine on the simple presence of God. Read the Bible to know God not just to wrest his will from its pages. Give yourself to God in worship. Be with God.

The Apostle Paul said the harvest of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He did not intend this as a legalistic list, but an illustration of a life with the Holy Spirit permeating the soil of the soul. Like a crop in rich earth, the fruit of the Spirit thrives in a life filled with God. Fruit withers when disconnected from the branch. If your faith is a series of outward responses based on an inward emptiness, hanging fruit on yourself will only weigh you down.

As Lent leads us toward Easter, feast on outward expressions of inward fullness; fast from outward expressions of inward emptiness. Is your life a feast or a famine? God desires it to be a banquet of freedom, forgiveness, and his very presence.

********

Beginning on March 13–the Sunday following Ash Wednesday–we will begin a Lenten series at The Neighborhood Church titled

“Embrace: Discover, Desire . . . Jesus”

During worship we will explore those things of God we can embrace and add to our lives as a response of love to Jesus.  These worship gatherings will also include hands-on opportunities to practice these things God asks us to add to our lives.  Join us.  See tnc3.org for worship times.

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Lent: Is Your Life a Feast or Famine?

  1. I learned yesterday that in Jewish tradition whenever they gave up food for God they never gave up salt, because they didn’t see salt as a food. They also required it to be there at every sacrifice. It is my understanding that salt could be seen as a metaphor for God. And so when they didn’t give up salt while fasting it could be as if they never gave up God. They constantly needed him to be added to their lives. And so yes, as my dad asks, what can we add to our lives this season of lent?

  2. Georgie-ann

    I believe that God uses the external patterns of “the Church year,” worship, architecture, etc., not only as a teaching / inspirational benefit to the believers and participants, but also as a recognizable sign “to the world” that “something different is going on here.”

    The true reality IS internally experienced and lived, but this is so subjectively experienced by any given person on any given day that the external pattern can be a great relief of consistency and testimony, proclaiming that “God is” and “has been with us” throughout this whole historical drama, personally and cosmically.

    To me, our beautiful old Catholic Church is as much a “mountain” created by God that stands in awesome witness of His splendidness and faithfulness throughout the ages, as any natural wonder. The outer forms of our worship are what they are, hopefully infused with spiritual inspiration and meaning. But they are not a uniform to be clung to and identified with, or a straight jacket to be restraining and limiting.

    Rather, they are a springboard or a rocket launch platform to position us to go further upward, or deeper inward, or whatever is our need in that time. Hopefully, each worshipper or seeker opens themself up to the personal realities that God has for them that day and finds their “needs met,” their path guided, their heart strengthened, their faith nourished and enabled to carry on for their own personal journey and pilgrimage throughout this life.

    I think I am one of the world’s worst when it comes to keeping track of a lot of outer details and “things to be done” and patterns to be followed. I just can’t seem to make things “look right” or “go right” consistently — and for no particular reason, not an attitude of rebellion — I just forget or lose track in the midst of “a 1000 details.” So I endeavor to basically simplify EVERYTHING and try to find significant moments of meaning in the times when I actually DO manage to connect with a specific Lenten practice, and that could actually be fairly rarely.

    One of my most embarrassing moments — (this is between “me, myself, and I” and God) — in this regard came on a Good Friday (no meat) several years ago. Before I really “came to” for the day and started thinking about what was ahead of me (a convert) — (Good Friday is a pretty big deal in the Catholic Church) — I had already prepared and eaten a fine bacon and eggs breakfast complete with toast and coffee!,…while sleep-walking, I guess,…I was like: “What HAVE you done??!!!”

    My frustration with myself was peaking immeasurably at that moment, and as I was leaving for an early Spanish service, I passed my goldfish tank and informed them on the way out that, “THEY would be fasting for me today, as I had neglected to be able to do even this!” — which they did, as they had no choice because I didn’t feed them.

    It was actually weirdly satisfying to have them make the substitute “sacrifice” for my unintended lapse — (and I apologized and thanked them profusely later). And I wonder if I didn’t learn something that day that “doing it right” might never have taught me.

    That type of symbolic “sacrifice” of our “fleshly inclinations” is to help us join our small “sacrifice” with Christ’s sacrifice of Himself, His flesh, on the Cross for us. I think it is meant to be a blessing in experientially bringing us closer to Him in sympathy and understanding of His sacrifice for us — and not so much as a put-down about what we are able or willing or not-willing to DO from our own point of view of “our fleshly lusts and desires.”

    I think it is more like: “Will you not watch with Me for one hour?”

    Matthew 26: 38, 40, 41
    38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”

    40 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour?

    41 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

    I see this now as a call to Love (“entering into temptation,” as being caught up in “not-Love,” fear or darkness). An opportunity to offer / share a few moments of communion with Christ in a symbolic sacrifice — not a futile endless war with my flesh, which can never be won. Because flesh is only flesh. It will get hungry to maintain its “life.” I can only guide it, not conquer it, or I would die. But for Love of Christ — to love and identify with Him Who Loved us first — I CAN set my flesh to the side for a few devoted and sacrificial moments and “think on Him, remember Him, join myself to Him,” who so loves us.

    I think everything about “Church” is about finding a way to stop the automatic on-going ceaseless momentum of this world, in order to breathe of more Life-giving, spiritual, rarefied air for a few blessed moments.

    God is Love.

    1 John 4:8

    • Great story, Georgie. And I know the other side of the coin is that we modern (American?) followers of Christ know little of the beauty of sacrifice and self-denial, especially outside of the Catholic Church. That may be a good blog for another day.

      In this one I want us to ask what it is God wants to add to our lives and to challenge us to not settle for “giving up caffeine” for Lent or some such mundaneness.

      Eugene

  3. Pingback: Let’s Get Spiritual: Retreat from Facebook! | Adventures in Guatemala

  4. katie

    Loved reading this! Loved the challege of feasting on God and enjoying Him! Thanks for your awesome and challenging words!

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