Sacrifice of Lent – More than Giving Up Good Stuff

 

The season of Lent is almost upon us – 40 days prior to Easter (excluding Sundays) that are a time of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ passion and resurrection.

The early Christian church marked the 40 days of preparation for Easter as far back as 325, and it was established formally in the 600’s. While today it is most often observed by Catholic, Episcopalian, Anglican and Lutheran denominations, there has been a revival of late in other Christian denominations.

In modern times, the practice of a Lenten sacrifice of something you liked for the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday (again, excepting Sundays) has been the most common form. “So what did you give up for Lent?” becomes a conversation starter in some congregations this week, and for the next six as well.

Sometimes these sacrifices are meant to be times to break bad habits – giving up smoking for 6 weeks put you pretty solidly on the path to breaking an unhealthy and expensive habit. Other recent sacrifices include Facebook, Netflix, video games, and even caffeine. Growing up, sweets and desserts were an automatic family-wide sacrifice, to which each person added their own sacrifice.

These neo-traditional sacrifices of goods in order to be better are great, but they are not the only option for a 40 day preparation for Easter. There is even a danger that such a practice gives the wrong idea of the sacrifice; it is not to make you a better person, but to offer up something of this world in expectation of the glorious promise of eternal life we believe, and will celebrate especially at Easter.

I have heard some people who practiced a Lenten sacrifice for most of their life say that they had nothing left to give up, for they (in their own words) saw nothing in themselves they could improve. This is not a New Year’s resolution. You cannot make yourself more worth for God’s gifts. This is a sacrifice of something you like or love.

Here are some ideas for Lenten preparations you can make for this coming season of Lent.

Sacrifice of Time 

Prayer is one of the three traditional activities associated with Lent. Set aside 40 minutes a day for prayer or Scripture reading. We are all given the same 24 hours a day, so this is a sacrifice of the most precious and limited commodity you have.

Sacrifice of Treasure

Almsgiving is the second traditional Lenten activity. Tithe extra, or pledge to give more than you usually do to charitable causes. Donate your time to soup kitchens, food pantries, and other services in need of volunteers. Make and pack lunches to hand out to people on the street.

I heard of a family that changed their food budget to what their family would receive if they were on food stamps, and donated the rest of the grocery budget to the local food bank. This was an act of empathy, charity, and sacrifice.

Fasting

Fasting is the third traditional activity for Lent. While it does not mean going completely without food, you can drastically alter your diet for the next six weeks.

Note that this should NOT be done only with the intention of losing weight. The sacrifice should be a sacrifice, not a new resolution.

Facing Your Fears

My Lenten preparation falls into this category. I have set an aggressive goal to tackle something mundane, but that has terrified me for as long as I can remember.  We are called to fear nothing in this life, and yet I have been afraid of this thing. 

Accepting God’s Will

Over the past several years my family has face several personal tragedies that fell just before or during Lent. Sometimes the best sacrifice you can make during Lent is the one God chooses for you. PRay for the strength to accept, bear, and even choose it.

Final Note on Attitude

“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in  heaven. “Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received  their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward  you.

“And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread;  And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors;  And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.  For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you;  but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

“And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I  say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,  that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:1-18

Called to be Faithful, not Successful

Although legendary and oft repeated quotes on the internet are sometimes inaccurate, and I have not been able to verify this one, the statement itself is very true:

 

God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.

-Mother Teresa of Calcutta

 

As you carry Christ’s message to the world, do not despair if no one hears you in the present. If you never seem to get ahead, if you barely keep your head above water – it doesn’t matter in the end. We are called to be faithful to a divine will, something not of this world. Material success is measured in worldly terms, and is worth nothing in the end.

So remember what it is you are called to be working towards. Let all that does not matter truly slide.

The Purpose of War is Peace

“The true object of war is peace.”

This expression is often attributed to Sun Tzu, author of the ancient “Art of War.” In fact, it seems to have originated in the forward to the 1983 edition of that book, written by James Clavell – someone who is just as qualified to remark on the subject of war and peace.

Even if Sun Tzu did not say that war’s purpose was peace in so many words, he did express similar expressions. Many good military leaders did, and do, understand that war is not an undertaking that should be entered into without a goal of peace.

Certainly there are unjust wars. However violence itself is not the opposite of peace. Several times throughout human history war was fought in order to restore a peace that was lost. Oppression, denial of human rights, or outright aggression against a people or nation is not peaceful, even if it is nonviolent. And when all else has failed, violence has sometimes been necessary to restore peace.

Blessed are the peacemakers; but maintaining the status quo when there is not peace is not “keeping the peace,” it is staying silent in the face of evil.

Thankfully, most of us will not be in a position to decide whether or not to wage war against another country, and for that we should be grateful that we are spared that terrible responsibility.

Yet each of us fights a war every day in a different way. The world as we know it is not the Kingdom of Heaven for which we hope. Conflict surrounds us, and we cannot avoid it. We must, at times, speak out, take action, and be forceful at times to correct the wrongs around us. The eternal revolution is an ongoing fight we as Christians can never escape.

This does not mean we should go out swinging fists at every person with whom we disagree. Our words may sting or have bite. Our anger may justly rise up, our thoughts may turn to non-violent vengeance. Or we may be thrust into a conflict in which moral right must be defended.

In these cases the principle that “the true object of war is peace” still applies. Righteous or just anger must still seek peace. If it feeds itself into a festering rage, or inspires shaming or harm to a person, their reputation, or their livelihood beyond the measure necessary to right the wrong at hand, then it has overstepped the boundaries of justice.

We must maintain hope at all times. When it comes to personal conflict with other people, in our homes, in our workplace, and in the world around us, we must always keep our eyes on the goal of peace. Every word of correction, every thought in anger, every expression of justice must take form in a way that will preserve the dignity of all human persons. Especially the person with whom you are arguing.

In a way, overstepping the bounds of a righteous anger is to lose hope that other people want what is good. Unjust anger casts them as an enemy, when we are called to accept all people as neighbors and fellow children of God.

You may not wage war on a global scale, but make sure every little act of war you make in your daily life is a hopeful gesture towards peace.

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin, and Charity

A graphic recently came up on facebook with a quote from Christian comedian Mark Lowry.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin? How about: Love the sinner, hate your own sin! I don’t have time to hate your sin. There are too many of you! Hating my sin is a full-time job. How about you hate your sin, I’ll hate my sin and let’s just love each other!”
– Mark Lowry

Since it’s hard to trust the truth of these things, I double checked and the quote is on Mark’s site. 

It’s certainly a nice, tolerant sentiment. But as I commented when I saw it on Facebook, it’s not a biblical or charitable sentiment.

(For the record, the only attribution I can find on “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” is Mahatma Gandhi. So no, the quote isn’t found in the Bible.)

The war for our souls is indeed personal. The eternal revolution for the Kingdom of God is within each and every one of us. But at the same time, just as we should look to our own battle, we should not neglect our neighbors, our brothers and sisters.

The quote is “hate THE sin.” Mr. Lowry’s error appears to be assigning ownership of the sin. “Your sin,” “my sin.” Sin is an act of will that cuts us off from God. To jump to an extreme, if one person murders someone, murder is the sin. It doesn’t become “his sin.” It’s an act he committed. His act, but still the sin of murder. The expression “There’s so many of you” belies this sentiment; there are many of us, but comparatively very few sins.

I don’t believe Jesus spoke idly. When He he rendered judgement in the case of the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11), He dismissed her persecutors but still admonished her, “Go and sin no more.”

Jesus cleansed the temple, condemned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, told his followers to judge by the fruits, and gave them counsel on how to address sins of others (Matthew 18:15+) . The whole parable of the good Samarian was a clarification of who your neighbor was (answer: even your worldly enemies) – a question raised by the second great commandment to “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.”

So if you hate the sin that you commit, don’t neglect to loathe it because it is destroying the eternal life of someone else.

And that’s just from that nice fellow Jesus in the New Testament.

When we go back to the Old Testement, God clearly instructs the prophets that they will be accountable for not guiding others. (Ezekiel 3:18, for instance).

It is certainly not charitable to tell people that God hates them (which is a lie, Jesus died for everyone, a sacrifice of love). But it is also uncharitable to tell them that you don’t detest “their sin,” simply because it affects their soul and not yours.

So love your neighbor as yourself, for God loves them as well as you. That includes not only the LGBT community, but the serial killers, the rapists, the murderers, the thieves, the prostitutes, the politicians, the child molesters, the pornographers, the dictators, the socialists, the capitalists, and even other Christians.

Who ever said charity was easy or nice? No one in the Bible, that’s for certain. Neither did those ancient warriors, the samurai.

In the Hagakure (quoted in The Way of the Christian Samurai) it is written:

“To give a person one’s opinion and correct his faults is an important thing. It is compassionate and comes first in matters of service. But the way of doing this is extremely difficult. To discover the good and bad points of a person is an easy thing, and to give an opinion concerning them is easy, too. For the most part, people think that they are being kind by saying things that others find distasteful or difficult to say. But if it is not received well, they think that there is nothing more to be done. This is completely worthless. It is the same as bringing shame to a person by slandering him. It is nothing more than getting it off one’s chest.

To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not. One must become close with him and make sure that he continually trusts one’s word. Approaching subjects that are dear to him, seek the best way to speak and to be well understood. Judge the occasion, and determine whether it is better by letter or at the time of leavetaking. Praise his good points and use every device to encourage him, perhaps by talking about one’s own faults without touching on his, but so that they will occur to him. Have him receive this in the way that a man would drink water when his throat is dry, and it will be an opinion that will correct faults.

This is extremely difficult. If a person’s fault is a habit of some years prior, by and large it won’t be remedied. I have had this experience myself. To be intimate with all one’s comrades , correcting each other’s faults, and being of one mind to be of use to the master is the great compassion of a retainer. By bringing shame to a person, how could one expect to make him a better man?”

Now if a pagan warrior can show this much compassion and charity but still counsel his brother about “his” sin, how can you as a Christian do any less? Certainly not by condemning and damming a person, but neither by dismissing someone else’s sin as their own problem and reserving all judgement.

Hey, it’s not called the narrow way for nothing.

 UPDATE: An online friend pointed out Augustine’s The City of God (Book 14, chapter 6):

“Wherefore the man who lives according to God, and not according to man, ought to be a lover of good, and therefore a hater of evil. And since no one is evil by nature, but whoever is evil is evil by vice, he who lives according to God ought to cherish towards evil men a perfect hatred, so that he shall neither hate the man because of his vice, nor love the vice because of the man, but hate the vice and love the man. For the vice being cursed, all that ought to be loved, and nothing that ought to be hated, will remain.”

This post originally appeared in an earlier incarnation of the Eternal Revolution blog.

Why Our Faith Must Grow With Our Fears

 

My kids were watching VeggieTales again, and as I walked into the room I heard Junior Asparagus explaining to his father why he was no longer afraid of the ‘monsterous fears’ he was having earlier in the episode of “Where’s God When I’m Scared.”

As Junior explained that not only was God bigger than the bogeyman, but that Frankencelery was really an actor named Phil from Toledo.

It dawned on me then that there may be something wrong with the approach to fear and trust in God when we talk to our children.

I very much enjoy Big Ideas’ all-audiences approach to humor and education with Veggie Tales, and this particular episode was their very first. I’m not picking on the veggies in particular, but on a larger issue that this is just a particular example.

As Christian parents, we want to encourage our children to trust God, and at the same time soothe their fears. Most of the time, these two objectives are one and the same. In the case of childhood’s fears of the unexplained and monsters, however, they don’t necessarily compliment each other.

In the case of Junior Asparagus overcoming his fear of monsters, he gives two reasons – that he trusts God is greater than anything that could scare him, and that the monsters were nothing to be afraid of anyway.

Think that through for a moment. Restated, the point of the scene is that God is bigger than a nonsense fear. Not much of a lesson there, if at once the fear is belittled as the idea that ‘God is greater’ is taught.

We are called to have faith like a child, and yet there are studies finding that youth and child-oriented religious instruction is driving those same youth to abandon the Christian faith as they become adults. Belittling childhood fears while trying to teach that God is bigger than your fears is one of those age-appropriate techniques that can backfire.

Instructing youth and children in the faith typically is more intense and regular at a young age. By the time they enter high school, the vast majority are no longer attending a regular Sunday School program, and youth groups become more oriented on fun than instruction in understanding the gospel.

By high school, and into college, the childhood fears that we are taught that ‘God is bigger than’ seem silly and ridiculous. Without further development and growth, through counsel and instruction from our elders, God becomes as silly and ridiculous as those fears He was supposed to help us overcome.

After all, we are only afraid of the things in which we believe exist and can do us harm. Faith is a necessary component of childhood fears. If God’s protection is taught only to those fears we will outgrow, in time we outgrow that faith in a childish god. If we belittle the fears of childhood, we in the same stroke belittle the faith of the child.

Now, I don’t suggest the answer is to teach your five year old about real monsters of which they should be afraid, such as demonic powers, or the worst of mankind’s inhumanity to man. Do not, for instance, belittle the monster under the bed by informing them that real demons – very real fallen angels – want to destroy their relationship with God and their soul. Trying to replace their childhood fears with mature fears will do a great deal of harm.

Do instruct them to trust God will protect them. Build up their faith in God’s protection to be stronger than their faith the monster under the bed can harm them. Teach them to pray when they are afraid, regardless of the fear.

As they get older, communicate with them about their current fears. Go ahead and laugh about being afraid of monsters under the bed when they are a teen, but use it to develop their faith in God to overcome their fears of failure, of being left out or rejected, or of the future. At some point, you will be able to talk to them about your own adult fears and how God’s gift of faith is helping you overcome and work through those fears.

And by all means, do not think that something so intimate will be developed by your pastor, a teacher, or a youth group leader. Our fears are deeply personal, and family are the best people to properly help with that aspect of a growing faith. After all, it is our parents and family that can do the most to foul it up as well.

God is, of course, bigger than the bogeyman. But He is also bigger than the IRS, the terrorists, the future, the past, your financial woes, cancer, and death. Even our fear that our children might abandon their faith. Make sure your children’s faith grows as their fears mature.

Most of all, make sure your faith in God’s protection grows to eliminate your grown-up fears.

Dying Light and the Eternal Revolution

This site and this company were not always called Eternal Revolution. For quite a while, t-shirts, books, and the occasional multimedia product were distributed through my efforts under the name R.A.G.E. Media, at DyingLight.com.

I still get traffic from searches for items from the old company – probably in part because the old company name and url are on books that are out there in circulation.

Yet another product is in the works using the popular “Dying Light” title. It’s definitely catchy. But I was surprised by how many did not get the reference to “dying light,” despite it being a popular theme in numerous movies, TV shows, books, and so on.

Both the name R.A.G.E. Media (standing for Rebellious Affirmation of Greater Existence) and the url DyingLight.com were references to the poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” which features the refrain, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

What better way to experience a poem than to hear the author read it:

You can also read the full text here at Poets.org.

Having a name like R.A.G.E. for a company got me a lot of questioning comments and questions. “Why so angry?” was a common theme of inquiry.

There are things in our existence that are worth our anger and our rage. While Dylan Thomas’ poem was about death, and not going quietly into “that good night,” I – as many others before me – used a good vs evil interpretation of the phrase. Raging against the apparent dying of Christ’s light in the world and the looming threat of a not-so-good darkness.

Anger, after all, was exhibited by our Lord when He turned out the merchants and money lenders in the temple, an event recorded in all four Gospels. Was that not validation of rage at evil?

However, in time and with the help of a friend the company was renamed, this time for a chapter from G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, “The Eternal Revolution.” The name change reflected a more significant shift from focusing on raging at the apparent fading of the light in the world, to dealing with the more personal war of each soul to partake in the kingdom of heaven.

Rage, anger, and cursing the darkness have their place in time, as all things do. But the constant fight to turn ourselves to God – an ongoing re- volution – is a far more perennial endeavor. The mission of Eternal Revolution is still to equip Christians for spiritual combat, but the focus is far more introspective.

So if you have come here via DyingLight.com, welcome. We’re still resisting the darkness here at Eternal Revolution. Come join us, and pray for revolution.

Take A Knee

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I don’t hesitate to admit I’m a fan of movies by M. Night Shyamalan. Or at least I am a fan of his work, just not all of them. I like the ones that are about purpose, about people finding their place in life, even in the most extraordinary – or ordinary –  of circumstances.

It was not until his latest film, After Earth, came to DVD that I got a chance to see it. A father and son film that almost exclusively stars real-life father and son Will and Jaden Smith. Will Smith plays a high-ranking military commander that has seldom been home, and his son, who desperately wants his father’s respect.

In a time when humanity has had to fight alien creatures that quite literally smell fear, Will’s character is all but invisible to them, as he has learned how to be absolutely fearless. His teenage son, however, is normal and plagued with anxieties and fear.

When they crash land on a hostile planet – the original Earth – Jaden’s character must traverse the terrain to recover a signal beacon with the remote help of his mortally wounded father.

This whole plot synopsis leads up to my point: the fearful son must face truly dangerous encounters and moments in his journey. He panics at times, and at others he acts rashly or freezes. His father’s recurring advice is to take a knee.

“Taking a knee” might have several meanings in differing contexts, but when the father tells his son to take a knee, he wants him to stop and re-focus and re-center his thoughts. What do you hear? What you you smell? What is actually there? Danger is real, but fear and panic are choices. Needless anticipation. Focus on what is at hand.

For us Christians, going to one’s knees is a euphemism for prayer. Prayer should be a time of centering, focusing, and communication with the Father. It is especially important at a moment of panic or crisis. Yes, there are times when important or dangerous things are happening. But what are we able to do in that moment? What immediate danger or need is there?

Too often we compound the problem by giving into fear and anxiety. These are attitudes, internal reactions. If we take a knee in times of stress, distress, and crisis we can calmly and surely deal with the task at hand – the task that has been set out for us by our Father.

The Facebook Farewell

Today, I unfriended everyone on Facebook and unsubscribed from every group to which I belonged.

My decision was not based on a terrible incident, or fear of government spying – definitely not the latter, as my father had worked for the NSA in the 1970’s on a project called Echelon. Nor did I do it to make a statement. It is a very personal decision.

I did it because of the noise.

I felt like something had been lost. My thought process had moved from “I cannot wait to share this with so and so” to “I can’t wait to share this with Facebook.” It was shotgun-communication. It was impersonal. It is disturbing when you reflect on it.

I tried unsubscribing from some people, and blocking all game requests, and only using Facebook on the weekends. But every time I logged in, even to do some maintenance on one of Eternal Revolution’s pages, there was this barrage of opinions, thoughts, tidbits, graphics and information that was not directed to me personally, but yet pushed through the boundary into my sphere.

We’ve lost touch with the inner life, driven to distraction. When the ceaseless flow of information stops, when I got caught up on my timeline, I felt a need to consume more. And how much of it was relevant to what God and I were working on today in my life? Very little.

I felt as though I lost something in interpersonal skills. Instead of constructing a message through email to send to an individual person, crafted however briefly, I was broadcasting a message to hundreds of people at once. And not everything was relevant or necessary for them to know. Thus I was imposing on others with most of my messages just as they were on me. My networking skills grew lax, as I could always rely on Facebook to serve up the information or keep tabs on others. I want my communication and use of the gift of language to be intentional.

I know a lot of good people who are changing the world without Facebook. And all the great ones who have in the past did not use it. So obviously it is no requirement for making a difference in the world, or in yourself. It might even be the opposite.

I won’t delete my Facebook account, as I still will use the pages for Eternal Revolution and feed information there, but by unfriending everyone I cut myself off from that particular social network.

For my friends, or any one else that wants to communicate something to me, there are dozens of direct ways to contact me – phone, email, postal service – you know how to find me. And I can reach out to you, intentionally and directly, as well.

Play Thy Own Game

I really do try to avoid Facebook.

The few times I popped on, though, my feed was full of reactions to goings-on in the news, even from bloggers and writers that I follow for their essays. A politician did or said something stupid and frightening, something obscene happened on a tv show on a channel I never watch, and some person whose respect I do not require nor desire said something that offended people.

I suppose that could wrap up any given week, come to think of it.

A while ago, I had come to the conclusion that I did not want this blog or these essays to be reactionary to current events. There is enough of that on the internet already. There is probably too much of it already. With every scandal, every fear mongering news story, every public figure that does something shocking and moronic there is a flurry of opinion pieces and analysis, even from Christian writers. I refuse to play that game.

I will not let myself be led by the nose through the muck merely because it is trending. Sure, rumination on things going on in the world will lead to insights I will share. But I will not chase the deadline for dead news. In a way, instead of dog eat dog, the editorial policy here will be “let the dead bury the dead.”

I did my stint in the news, having written for LifeNews.com and American Life League’s magazine, and public relations for a number of ventures in addition to that. I have even done several opinion pieces on old incarnations of this blog. There is something to getting the story. There is something else entirely to forming your opinion about what is going on, and to a lesser extent a need to express that opinion on occasion. But when that is your daily grind, you are letting the world lead you.

There is a concept in board gaming that goes as far back as chess and go. Play your own game. If your moves are always in reaction to your opponent, you are playing their game. That is the way to defeat. To win, you need to take the initiative, to lead, and to make your moves have merit on their own basis. In life, it is important that you are making your decisions based on your path in Christ, irrelevant of the chaos in the world that has been, is now, and will be until kingdom come.

Don’t take your eyes off the New Jerusalem to keep reacting to what is going on in Babylon. Play thy own game.

The Mundane Epic

The battle of good vs evil is always easier from someone else’s perspective. Few epics of high fantasy manage to capture what it is like to slog through the challenges of life. Wouldn’t it be great if our life’s purpose was handed to us as a powerful ring that needed to be tossed in a volcano?

Most of us are assailed throughout our lives with millions of not-quite-insignificant cares and worries, and maybe a few major conflicts. A few of us might get the epic fantasy struggle that turns heads. But almost all of life’s battle is fought slowly, painfully, and is tragically mundane.

That does not diminish the task before you and I. The task of living each day, trying to be better than the person you were yesterday, last week, and last year. Only in the end will we know how epic our story really is.