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The Gift of Lent


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The other day I had the privilege of writing a blog for my friends over at The Youth Cartel. They are the good folks who have published my books and continue to get the word out on them. I wrote this post as a way to encourage folks to participate in the great journey of Lent. I thought it might encourage you as well.

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The Gift of Lent

My sons and I like to build Lego projects together. My 7-year-old is into big projects that are intricate and involved—the more pieces, the bigger the accomplishment. My 2-year-old is more into abstract Lego art—a few blocks here and a few there, and boom, it’s a lion, a sword, or whatever you can imagine. But one thing they both enjoy is building a tower, and seeing how high it can get before all the pieces crash to the floor. And inevitably, they do crash. They might not even get the chance to topple on their own because my 2-year-old Soren really enjoys playing the part of a human wrecking ball!

We all spend time constructing lives that are precarious at times. Learning to balance all the layers we pile up throughout the year is like another job. Lent is a season, as I like to say, for addition, subtraction, and introspection. At first glance, Lent seems dark and depressing but I would like to suggest that Lent is a gift, a gift from God to his Church. It’s a gift because it’s a designated time for us to reflect on our lives, giving us space and time to deconstruct the towers we have built, because we all know that if we just keep piling on the layers, they’re bound to crumble, we are bound to crumble.

As we inspect our lives, we give up some of those layers that are distracting us. We might fast from things like meat or sweets, so that in our hunger we will remember we were created to hunger for God. In our desire, we remember that our only satisfaction is found in God. I always hope that some of what I give up will be gone for good, while others things will return and, with God’s grace, be rightly ordered in my life.

While it’s a time of subtraction, Lent is also a time for addition. It’s common to add things like extra time in prayer and scripture study, extra time serving the poor and financially giving to those in need. These additional spiritual disciplines are not supposed to be just another Lego on the every growing tower of our lives. Rather, they are the very things that free us to be with God and not so consumed with ourselves. Adding disciplines during Lent allows God to mold and shape us further into the likeness of his Son.

His son, Jesus. Ever hear that you must begin with the end in mind? I guess there is something to it. Lent is, maybe most importantly, 40 days of preparation for Easter. So yea, Lent is all about Jesus. We start our Lenten journeys with the story of entering into the wilderness with Jesus (Mark 1:12) and end it by participating in his resurrection (Philippians 3:10-11). We keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and our utter dependence upon him. After all, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, reminds us we are dust and to dust we shall return.

During Lent, then, all we do is a reminder that Jesus is our only hope for the abundant life. He is the one who has entered into our desperate situation and become our hope. That hope of the resurrection is a foundational part of the Christian life. Lent culminates with Easter Sunday, the feast of all feasts for the Christian, and on that day, we celebrate the saving work of Jesus, who has risen, conquering sin and death. Ultimately, the season of Lent is the gift we have been given so that our hearts and minds might be ready to participate in this feast.

Life is hard; it’s full of distractions and busyness, difficulty and temptation. Those of us in ministry know this personally. And we all know students and families who we are keenly aware of this as well. What I’ve found to be one of the most powerful parts of Lent is the space it creates to slow down, evaluate life, confess that it’s hard and full of temptation, subtract some layers that are draining and distracting from Jesus, then add some things that will connect and cultivate my relationship with Jesus and the abundant life he so wants to give. Lent is a gift. This year, I hope we will all take advantage of this gift for ourselves and for our ministries, I hope we will journey together into a Holy Lent.

Grace and Peace
Erik

PS: Be sure to check out the Lent Web Guide in the next few days. I have a beautiful new site that’s just about ready for you!

PSS: If you don’t have a copy of my Lent Devotional book you can pick it up here: Lent Devo Store Envy – It’s also on Amazon if you’re into that sort of thing!  😉

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Lent :: A Reminder


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Lent :: A Reminder

I’ve felt it in my bones and have been reminded, both in the sermon yesterday and in the homily today during morning prayer that we are about half way through the season of Lent.

There are reminders all around.

For instance, I read this Psalm in morning prayer today…

Psalm 119:25-32
ד Daleth

25 My soul clings to the dust;
revive me according to your word.
26 When I told of my ways, you answered me;
teach me your statutes.
27 Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
28 My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
29 Put false ways far from me;
and graciously teach me your law.
30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I set your ordinances before me.
31 I cling to your decrees, O Lord;
let me not be put to shame.
32 I run the way of your commandments,
for you enlarge my understanding.

“My soul clings to the dust…”

I want that to be true of my Lenten experience. Really, I want that to be true of my life. To always keep my humanity and mortality before me, knowing that my every breath is a gift of God.

We are halfway through Lent but far from eternity. It is with this in mind that we let our lenten disciplines begin to shape our heart and mind and our desire toward life that is most truly situated in the reality of the Kingdom of God. This reality that we will someday day live fully.

So this day, right now, we live like we will fully live someday. Lent is God’s gift to us, helping us have space and practice to do this very thing in intentional, practical and communal ways. Hopefully we are learning to live during Lent, a little more like we should live all the time and will fully live in the time to come.

Hang in there. Cling to the dust. Resurrection is around the corner!
Grace and peace
Erik

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Lent Week #4 :: Music Monday(ish)


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Well, Lent is supposed to remind you that you’re a dirtbag right? [ from dust we have come, right…] Or least it’s supposed to remind you of your humanity and need for Christ. I’m reminded of that every time I think about my blog, or more accurately, my non-blog. I would love to blog more but I just don’t make the time for it. I have pages of blog ideas but haven’t taken the time to flesh them out. Someday I hope to blog once a week, for now… it will be what it will be.

Anyway, here is another addition of my Lenten music playlist. If you want to just get direct access to this, follow the playlist on Spotify. I’ll be adding to the same playlist every week.

This week I’m adding a little All Sons and Daughters action. Great stuff…
and this week as week focus on being aware of God, even in the midst of our lenten deserts, I would recommend their songs Christ  Be All Around Me and God With Us as well.

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Lent Week #3 :: Music Monday


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Continuing the theme of temptation this week as we read about Jesus being temp tempted by the evil one.

And here is another song from the 1st Enter the Worship Circle album. An oldie but a goodie! and there are a few great songs on this album that would be good to listen to this Lent.

Save Me | Enter the Worship Circle

and check out the whole album as well.

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Lent Week 2 :: Music Monday


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For week #2  of Lent we lean into temptation and our constant need for Jesus to lead us through, as only he can.

 

This bonus song has been on my mind since lent begun and I thought I would share.
Lent is all about rending your heart and not your garment! (Joel 2:13)
Remember that as you practice your lenten disciplines.

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Lent Week 1 :: Music Monday


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I posted this on Facebook from forgot to post it here… sorry about that!
I messed up already this Lent! Just factoring in failure my friends.

Grace and peace

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Lent 2016


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It’s Ash Wednesday

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 12.04.13 PMI read from Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s book Great Lent every year. It is amazing. I read the following passage this morning at morning prayer / Ash Wednesday liturgy. It’s just about perfect!

“For many, if not for the majority of Orthodox Christians, Lent consists of a limited number of formal, predominantly negative, rules and prescriptions: abstention from certain food, dancing, perhaps movies. Such is the degree of our alienation from the real spirit of the Church that is is almost impossible for us to understand that there is “something else” in Lent—something without which all these prescriptions lose much of their meaning. This “something” can best be described as an “atmosphere,” a “climate” into which one enters, as first of all a state of mind, soul, and spirit which for seven weeks permeates our entire life. Let us stress once more that the purpose of lent is not to force on us a few formal obligations, but to “soften” our heart so that it may open itself to the realities of the spirit, to experience the hidden “thirst and hunger” for communion with God.

This lenten “atmosphere,” this unique “state of mind,” is brought about mainly by means of worship, by the various changes introduced during that season into the liturgical life. Consider separately, these changes may appear as incomprehensible “rubrics,” as formal prescriptions to be formally adhered to; but understood as a whole, they reveal and communicate the spirit of Lent, they make us see, feel, and experience that bright sadness which is the true message and gift of Lent. …”

From Great Lent: Journey to Pascha by Fr. Alexander Schmemann

He goes on to talk about the art of repentance among other things. As The Book of Common Prayer states; “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer…”

May you enter into the bright sadness and the observance of a Holy Lent.

temptations-of-christ

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Good Friday & Black Saturday


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The Harrowing of HadesSome people call it Holy Saturday, I prefer Black Saturday. And for the record, one of my least favorite things that churches do these days is to have an Easter service on Saturday night. I get it, I get it. I know why you do it but that doesn’t make it any better.

As I was sitting in my churches Good Friday requiem (which might have been the most amazing music I have ever heard in a church building) I was reflecting on the weekend, I even wrote a few things down in my journal. By Friday night Jesus would have been crucified, dead and buried. His words, “it is finished” would have been said and his last breath would have been breathed. Personally I want to sit there, in the darkness. I want to take in the forsakenness of it all. I want t know that darkness, the quite, that stirring chaos. I want to sit in and become familiar with this space, to become aware of the void and the despair.

Most times we want to jump to Sunday, to resurrection. I hate even speaking the word today. It’s still Saturday. Jesus is still dead. Doing his thing in hell while I sit in my own hell. I don’t want to jump ahead I want to take in this fierce silence.

There are many time in my life and in my struggles where I wondering where God is. I wondering if he has abandoned me. I read the early parts of many of the Psalms and want to stop just before the poet gets to the “but I remember” or “but I will praise you” parts. I can relate to the nagging questions “why have you forsaken me” but in those moments I have a hard time with the remembrance and the praise parts.

You see, I want to sit in the dark silence of Good Friday evening & Black Saturday because it’s here, as I remember this story, as I reenact this narrative that I experience true abandonment. Where with Jesus I can honestly cry out, “Why have you forsaken me.”

I want to be so aware and attuned to this absence so that in all the other moments of life that feel so dry and dark I can sense God’s presence even then. And I can sense it because I know what Black Saturday is like and in all of those other moments I will be able to say, “this isn’t that.”

 

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These thoughts are inspired by Ignatian meditation that encourages us to really live into the text and put ourselves, imaginatively into the stories. This type of thoughtful, imaginative scripture engagement had greatly deepened my life. Try it!

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Maundy Thursday — Reflection


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holythursday_15c_rusToday is Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday. A lot goes on here but the primary scripture i’ve been thinking about is John 13:1-15, the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet. Many churches will have a eucharist / communion service that will include a foot washing ceremony. When I was living in Nashville and attending Church of the Redeemer I was able to participate in a few Maundy Thursday service that included foot washing. It was uncomfortable! It was awkward! It was thought provoking. And when all was said and done it was beautiful and deeply moving.

We don’t wash peoples feet. We often don’t love people well. In our culture these things aren’t related but for Jesus he tied these 2 together. Wanting to profoundly love and serve his friends and show them how important it was going to be for them to receive that love and then go and do the same.

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 11.45.29 AMPray As You Go engages this passage in John today and asked a few poignant questions…

“have ever known that kind of love?”

“Is there someone whose love you find difficult to accept at the moment?”

(image yourself in this story…)
“What do you want to say to Jesus, and what does he want to say to you?”

They close with these two pieces…

“‘I have set you an example’ says Jesus, ‘that you also should do as I have done.’  Speak to Jesus about what this invitation means to you, and how it might become a reality in your life?”

“We adore you o’ Christ and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

The medition today from Pray As You Go struck me and I wanted to share it. Take 12 minutes today, listen and engage, you won’t regret.

I hope you’re abel to find a good Maundy Thursday service today. Let it prepare you tomorrow, Good Friday and the darkness that follows and the light that is right around the corner!

Grace and epace
ERik

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LENT 2015 :: An Intro


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Lent has become my favorite liturgical season. Not because it’s fun and festive but because it has produced the most significant spiritual growth in my life. One of my proposals is that every liturgical season is a gift from God that enables a person to become fully human and experience spiritual growth in particular ways.

Lent is the space we are given that allows us to experience temptation, difficulty and dryness. We are reminded during Lent that God is not distant when God is quiet and that our difficulty isn’t necessarily because of a problem but rather it may be a preparation.

Either way, because you are human, because you are dust and to dust you will return, you will experience not only the good but the difficult and tempting parts of life.

Lent is God’s gift to us, creating space to experience this while affirming His love for us as He did in the life of Jesus.
So in all of this we share in His suffering and are prepared to participate in His resurrection.

There is a lot more to Lent but those are my thoughts for today. 
I wrote a little Lent devotional book if you want to read a bit more. 
Here is the intro to that book which will briefly introduce you, if you’re not familiar to some of the Lenten basics…
I also plan on blogging every Wednesday about Lent and my experience.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.25.50 AMFrom Lent…

Lent is the time in the Christian year that leads us to Easter and our celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. For most of my Christian life, I was aware of Lent but didn’t engage in the creative aspects Christians have participated in for hundreds of years. However, for the past several years, my engagement in Lenten exercises has provided water for my thirsty soul. Lent is usually a period marked by prayer, penitential activities, helping those in need and radical self-denial.
I have simplified those ideas in my own life focusing on three things. With the hope and expectation of participating in the resurrection, during Lent I will:
• add something,
• subtract something, and
• spend intentional time in self examination.

And here is a prayer to begin your Lenten season
(and I hope you will find a community to experience an Ash Wednesday service today. You won’t regret it.)

From the 1979 Book of Common Prayer
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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