Today [in the Western calendar] marks the beginning of the Lent season. For those that might not be familiar with Lent, it is the 40 weekday period between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday. It marks a time of humility, repentance, self-denial, and soul searching as one draws closer to the Passion of Christ.
Do you observe Lent?
And if so, are you giving something up for Lent? What and Why?
I appreciate the Lenten season for many and various reasons. This year, I’m choosing – along with some other things – to give up “coffee” during the Lent season. Trust me, for someone that runs a cafe and has his offices in a cafe and has access to free Stumptown coffee whenever I want, this will certainly be a “test” of self-denial.
But even after acknowledging that I myself am “giving up” coffee during Lent, I’m ambivalent about how vogue or easy it is to give something up during Lent. Umm, especially when it’s something like chocolate, sodas, sugar, Facebook, Twitter, television, and – umm – coffee. [But, it’s…Stumptown!]
I don’t want to knock those who give stuff up. In fact, I understand its value and significance but if we’re not careful, we can so easily just fall into religious practice for the sake of religious practice. If the goal is merely the giving up of something without taking up of something more significant, the focus is just merely on the stuff which we give up or really, the focus is onthe practice of giving up something.
That is religion gone bad.
Anything that produces rituals, expressions, practices, and whatever – without ultimately inviting us to a deeper understanding and worship of the Living God…lends us to religion.
Isaiah 58 speaks of fasting but fasting that God is not pleased with. It’s a fasting that caters to our own eyes, flesh, and please but not the kind of fasting that God invites us to:
A life broken and transformed by the things of God
“I will tell you why!” I respond.
“It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
you keep oppressing your workers.
4 What good is fasting
when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting
will never get you anywhere with me.
5 You humble yourselves
by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
Do you really think this will please the Lord?
6 “No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
7 Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
8 “Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
9 Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.
“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
10 Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring.
12 Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes.
Or in other words, I wonder if God might have these words for me:
“Umm, I didn’t ask you to give up coffee. I asked you to give up your life to me.”
So here’s the question:
In what way does the self-denial of whatever make you more mindful of Christ and the Kingdom of God?
For me, I don’t want to think of it as a giving up but rather a season of more deeply ‘giving in’ or ‘giving to’…
- In what way of am I more compelled to give in to the ways of God?
- How am I more deeply giving in and giving to – to my neighbors, wife, children, church, strangers, etc?
- How am I more deeply giving or growing in stewardship, generosity, my convictions, etc?
- How am I more giving in to the Ways of Christ? How am I more giving in to Mercy, Justice, and Humility?
Here’s an alternative invitation for Lent – whether you give up something or not:
Give yourself more fully to Jesus and the Kingdom of God.
Eugene Cho is the co-founder (with his wife) and executive director of One Day’s Wages—“a movement of People, Stories, and Actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.” He is also the founding and lead pastor of Quest Church and the founder and executive director of Q Cafe—a non-profit community cafe and music venue in Seattle. Eugene is considered one of the prominent bloggers on issues of justice, faith, ministry and utilizing social media for good. You can follow him via his blog or Twitter.