- Jim Lovelady
What is Lent? Part 2
Let's get ready for Easter.
Christians believe that resurrection life is the "new normal" because of the magnitude of what Jesus did--he actually died and then rose again from the dead, trampling down death by death! This means that the very nature of the cosmos is different. The apostle Paul talked about Jesus's resurrection in terms of a new creation and that wasn't a metaphor for "let's try Plan B now." That sentiment is no where near big enough for the magnitude of what Jesus did. No, Paul was being literal. Jesus recreated the world the day he rose from the grave. The world is literally, absolutely different from the way it used to be when death was in charge. It's a different universe. It's a universe where Jesus is in charge.
Well, the universe doesn't seem much different.
I suppose this does take some explaining. Think of it this way: the very nature of the cosmos has ben altered so that death is no longer the tormentor of our soul. Death no longer has the power to rip us away from true life. Death doesn't have the power that it used to have. Rather, it is now merely a servant that is used to prepare us for true life. This is why the Apostle Paul can say, "Death, where is your sting?" and then he starts using the word death in such a way that makes it seem like a tool for becoming more like Jesus,
"I died and my life is hidden in Christ."
"To live is Christ and to die is gain."
"What you sow does not come to life unless it dies."
Paul gets it. Death is no longer the end but it's the pathway to true life. Paul isn't afraid of death any more and when you aren't afraid of death, you are invincible and if you are invincible, nothing can stop you from doing what you want to do and when what you want to do is bring about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, the result will be something amazing--a completely different universe, a universe where Jesus is in charge.
Death has now moved from being a tormentor to being a servant that prepares us for true life.
By death I don't just mean the end of your physical life. Death is bigger than the scientific process of your body shutting down. Death is bigger than that because life is bigger than your heart pumping and your brain functioning. By death I mean anything that gets in the way of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
When Jesus says, "If you try to hang on to your life you will lose it but if you give up your life for my sake you will save it," he is inviting you to do something very counterintuitive: let go. Give up the things that you cling to that give you the facade of life. Give them up and look for the surprising reality of Resurrection
Lent is the exercise of letting go.
But letting go feels like DYING! When we give up the things of this world that have been giving us life it feels like DEATH. It feels like the torment and oppression of an evil master. But Jesus is assuring us that it only feels that way. What is actually happening when we give up those--often times good--things is that we are using death as a servant to lead us to new life. It is so counterintuitive. It's hard because we don't have an imagination for what that resurrection life could be. We don't understand just how glorious it is. So we cling to what we know.
For example, I love sleep but last year I decided to experiment with no longer sleeping in every morning. It meant shifting from being in bed until the last possible minute required to grumpily get my children to school on time to being awake before them...way before them. This simple thing required much of me (I am SO not a morning person). It required the death of many things, many simple pleasures in my life that I felt a bit too entitled to but didn't realize it until I started giving them up.
It required discipline (a foreign concept for one who preferred to relive an existential crisis every morning when the alarm went off). It was a trial and error experiment and I hated it! No more staying up late watching Netflix or YouTube. If I did there was no way I'd be able to get out of bed. Instead of a shot of bourbon before bed it was sleepy time tea. I may fall asleep quickly with bourbon but I'd wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.
I was miserable at first. Dying to myself didn't feel like a holy and pious religious experience. It felt like death. My fasting experience was bringing out some ugly things in my heart: entitlement, anger, laziness, lack of discipline, drunkenness, apathy, victim mentality, moodiness. It sure didn't feel like the martyrdom that I, in my religious upbringing, had sentimentalized. I sure didn't see the heavens open and the Son of Man sitting at God's right hand!
Lent is the exercise of dying…in order to prepare you for new life.
Steps of faith often feel like death but it is those steps of faith that make room for new life--that's how it works when death is the servant of the Resurrected Savior. The changes you make when you fast from something really are a sacrifice (and always remember that it's not a sacrifice you make in order to make God love you more) but the sacrifice is worth the promise of something more glorious.
My kids could say, "Daddy isn't a nice person in the morning. He is really grumpy until he gets his coffee."
That needed to die! I needed to kill that. Lori and my children deserved something more glorious. The people around me at 7am deserve to experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It wasn't perfect, nor am I an absolute saint every morning. But the fasting experience did reveal some things that needed to die in order for me to be ready for Jesus to infuse something better into my life, something more consistent with the way the universe works now that Jesus has brought about a new creation.
Here is how Lent works to prepare you for Resurrection.
1. You give up something good that you enjoy.
2. You have all sorts of emotions that come to the surface because you no longer run to that thing that you used to enjoy.
3. You see the things in your heart that were previously hidden.
4. You acknowledge that Jesus already knew and he loves you!
5. You confess, "I'm sorry about these things."
6. You repent, "Help me do differently."
7. You do differently, in faith, knowing that Jesus is with you.
8. Your family will be much happier. The world will be a better place.
9. New Creation.
Lean in to the things that are difficult for you. It will feel like death but there is something better on the other side. Don't read this verse as a threat or a warning but rather as a joy-set-before-you resurrection promise:
"If you try to hang on to your life you will lose it but if you give up your life for my sake you will save it."
What will you give up in order to prepare your life for Resurrection?