Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lent In The Post-Christian Church : Part 2

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Mark 1:9-13

And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Hebrews 12:5-11

Discipline without love is abuse.

The ancient tradition of observing the season of Lent is an act of modelling ourselves on Jesus. We fast because he fasted. But Jesus went into the wilderness with these words ringing in his ears: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” He went, knowing the Father’s love, which made it possible for him to put himself in the place of dependency on his loving Father.

To see Lent as a challenge, the testing of our own strength of will, our own self-discipline, is to miss the point. Indeed, it is worse than worthless – not because self-discipline is bad (in fact, it is the fruit of the Spirit in our lives) but because self-discipline without knowing the Father’s love is actually self-reliance.

The purpose of Lent is to experience child-like dependency on our loving Father. Fasting both creates space to meet with God – time otherwise spent in busy activity – and is an act of laying down our self-sufficiency.

Our self-sufficient society has turned Lent into an opportunity to show everyone just how self-reliant we are. We live in a surrounding culture that needs the church to rediscover the significance of Lent.

Love without discipline is abuse.

If I claim to love my children but do not set age-appropriate boundaries for them – where they can go, what they can see, how they relate to others – then I am lying. But discipline is unpleasant at the time – and pushing through the pain-barrier is unpleasant for the one responsible for discipline, too. As a parent, it is easier to not encourage [give someone courage to] my children to do their piano practice, or go to bed. And so indiscipline raises a harvest of indiscipline.

To engage with God’s disciplining us is to experience child-like dependency on a loving Father. To choose indiscipline is to remain in a place of childish behaviour, demanding that God bails us out, unchanged. But through discipline God transforms our souls into his holy nature. Love alone cannot transform us. Discipline transforms us. Love enables us to embrace discipline.

And so if we want to be changed, we need to take on disciplined behaviour. We need to live as we hope to become, not in our own strength but in dependency on God’s ability to transform us.

Then we discover that Lent is not a legalistic requirement but a gift of grace, a word of encouragement to us:

“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert...

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