Why I love Lent

There is something comforting to me about the Lenten season. It is a time when we are reminded of our creatureliness. We can think very highly of ourselves, can’t we? We believe nature is a resource for us to use up. We think all the mysteries of the universe are available for our understanding. We expect happiness and prosperity. We think we can make it on our own, and we believe salvation is ours for the taking.

Lent reminds us none of this is true. We are created beings, creatures formed from dust and dirt. We cannot give life. The breath of life is blown into our lungs by our loving creator. Your life and mine is given as an intimate gift, and we are reminded during Lent that we have abused this precious gift. In the words of John Eldredge, we have surrendered it in pursuit of “less wild lovers.”

Can I invite you to consider practicing Lent with me this year? Would you be willing to fast from something, something that will be a genuine sacrifice? Not as an empty ritual but as a way of reminding ourselves through hunger and desire that we are creatures, from dust we come and to dust we will return. Let it be a reminder of our complete and utter dependence on God for life.

I would also like to invite you to go one step further. Can we commit during Lent to finding a spiritual discipline, just one discipline to practice on a daily basis? This Lent, let’s not only remind ourselves of our dependence on God, but let’s also dive headfirst into his love and grace.

You might choose to engage scripture more intentionally through lectio divina, memorization, or the inductive method. You can dedicate this season to prayer with breath prayer, contemplative prayer or the Examen. You may serve your neighbor with secret acts of kindness or engage community in a regular and intentional way.

If you would like some resources to explore specific disciplines, send me a message on facebook or twitter. I will be happy to help in any way I can. But if you are looking for a suggestion, can I recommend the practice I will be engaging this Lent, the prayer of the Examen? The Examen is a way of reviewing each day with God and cultivating a greater awareness of his presence in our everyday lives. This will be my practice for the season of Lent.

If you would like to join me in this, I can direct you to a wonderful resource. My friend Aaron Niequist is a gifted composer of liturgies. He has been practicing The Examen for some time with the guidance of a spiritual director, and he has just released a liturgy centered on this practice. If you are interested in joining me in this practice for the season of Lent, you can this resource here.

Four relationships in the kingdom of God

The kingdom of God is grounded in relationship. You cannot find a single place in the life or ministry of Jesus that teaches or even implies that kingdom life is solitary. Life in the kingdom is not an individual endeavor. Relationship is a cornerstone of the kingdom and a consistent theme in Scripture. In fact, one way to describe the story of Scripture is God working to restore the relationships broken in the fall. Notice the specific relationships outlined in the first chapters of Genesis and how they were perfect in their creation.

Adam and Eve had an intimate relationship with God. He interacted directly with them, speaking to them, instructing them, and even walking with them in the garden (Genesis 3:8). We see wholeness in Adam and Eve’s relationships with themselves and one another when Genesis tells us they were naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:25) There is even a relational connection with creation as Adam is responsible for naming the animals and caring for the Garden (Genesis 2:20, 15).

Relationships were perfect. They were whole. Now watch how it changes when sin enters the picture. They hear God walking in the garden, and Adam and Eve hide from him (Genesis 3:8). They become ashamed of their nakedness (Genesis 3:7). Adam blames Eve who blames the serpent. (Genesis 3:12-13) Marital discord is introduced (Genesis 3:16), and our relationship with creation is strained as a result of sin. The ground itself is cursed and it will only provide food through toil and sweat (Genesis 3:17-19).

From this moment on, Scripture tells the incredible story of a clear progression toward restoring broken relationships. God calls Abraham. He promises to make his descendants into a nation and bless the entire world through them (Genesis 12:1-3). He reveals his name to Moses and claims the Israelites as his people (Exodus 6:2-7). He dwells first in the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35) and then in the temple built by Solomon (1 Kings 8:10-11). He identifies with us on an unprecedented level in the incarnation. In Jesus, God actually becomes one of us (Matthew 1:23). He is killed. He rises from the dead and ascends to heaven. Then the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts (Acts 2:1-4). God’s presence isn’t in one particular location anymore. He is in the hearts of his people. And today we wait in joyful hope for the final and complete restoration of all humanity and creation (Revelation 21:1-8). The story of Scripture is the story of a God working to reestablish the relational peace that was lost in the fall.

Our experience of the kingdom today comes in relationships. It is not solitary. We live in the kingdom through our relationships with God, self, others and creation. When we follow Jesus and are transformed into the people he created us to be we will begin to see each of these relationships restored. We will grow deeper in our connections to God ourselves, one another and all of creation. Where do you see God’s kingdom breaking into each of these relationships? Where do you need more of the kingdom?

Father, may your kingdom come, your will be done in these relationships as it is in heaven.

 

The framework for this – specifically the four relationships – comes primarily from Scot McKnight’s book, A Community Called Atonement.

The life you were meant to live

We cannot understand the kingdom of God without acknowledging a certain kind of life. In the teachings of Jesus, the life and the kingdom are almost interchangeable, and at the heart of his description of the kingdom is the promise of John 10:10. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

What is this abundant life? I believe the blueprints for life in the kingdom are written on our hearts. This is why we long so deeply for it. I believe the plans for the abundant life are written in our desires.

I am not referring to our surface desires. I want a new car and a vacation in the United Kingdom, but I don’t think God created me to drive a comfortable car or tour the sites of Arthurian legend. These desires are like breadcrumbs, which, if we choose to examine, will lead us to our deeper desires, the seeds of the abundant life. If we examine our surface desires and ask what we really want, we will discover a longing for love, for joy and for peace. We will find a desire to use our gifts and to use them for something we feel strongly about.

Imagine that for a moment – a life defined by love for all God’s creation, a life full of joy regardless of circumstance, a life marked by a peace rooted in the foundation of your being. Can you imagine? That is the life we are called to. That is the life we were created for, and it is the life that is available today, in part, for disciples of Jesus.

Of course we live in the tension of the “already but not yet.” The kingdom is both a present and a future reality. But let’s not neglect the present for the sake of the future. Let’s also be clear the abundant life is not financial wealth. Jesus warned that physical wealth is dangerous (Matthew 19:24). And it does not mean a life without pain. Jesus promised we would face trials (John 16:33). The abundant life is simply the life we were created to live. It is a return to Eden, a return to God’s original design for all of his creation. It is the restoration of the relationships damaged in the fall. Shalom means wholeness and peace in our relationship with God. It is the healing of our relationship with ourselves, others, and the rest of God’s creation.

Next: Relationships in the kingdom?

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