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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

CrossTalk: Observing Lent

Since tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, what better time is there to talk about Lent? Let’s start by defining the word. “Lent” is Latin for “spring.” It is the time of the year when the days grow longer and warmer and tulips bloom. Lent is as unavoidable as spring itself. It just happens. So it’s not really a matter of whether you will observe it. It is rather a question of how you will observe it.

When Christians observe spring, they always remember Jesus’ resurrection. Both Scripture and history testify that Jesus was crucified and rose during the first month of spring. That’s why spring (Lent) has become a time to prepare for the annual festival of Jesus’ resurrection.

While many prepare for Easter with decorations, chocolate eggs and marshmallow bunnies, Christians have found it more helpful to prepare the heart than to decorate the home. And for help in preparing the heart, we have turned to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1-21). There Jesus teaches how giving, praying, and fasting can train the heart to receive what the Lord gives by His life and death and resurrection.

Know first, that Lent is not just a “once a year” observance. In fact, early on, Christians held seasons of giving, praying and fasting not only in the spring but also in summer, fall, and winter. More than that, Christians know that the mere external “doing” of these things is not at all helpful apart from the Risen Lord who makes it a permanent way of being and does not only confine it to a few weeks each year.

Most importantly, we need to be clear about the true purpose and direction of fasting, praying and giving.  These are spiritual disciplines. Disciplines are teachers, not punishments. They are a way of learning from God, not being punished by Him. God forbids that we should fast with the idea that we are proving to God how self-denying we can be! We must not pray in order to demonstrate our religiosity either to God or to others. We do not give charity either because God needs it or because it feeds our self-righteousness. Rather, giving, praying and fasting are given to turn your eyes to the Risen Lord, who is Himself, your very life.

God teaches, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” When, in the midst of hunger and need, we turn our attention to Jesus, the Eternal Word of the Father, we learn by experience that He is the true Bread of Life (John 6:35).

Nature and reason teach that all we have is received from God. Not only does my life come to me without my having any say over it, but every kind of food comes from living plants or animals—life which I cannot generate but only cultivate in holy wonder. But while we know this in our heads, prayer brings it into the heart. Every need that you name in prayer before God is no longer taken for granted, but received as God’s gift.

While we are learning the lessons of fasting and prayer, Satan and worldly opinions conspire to turn our eyes away from the Lord who gives; and focus instead on the things that He gave. We pile up a stash for tomorrow in the desperate attempt to feel secure, but this drive for future security is not only futile but fruitless. It hampers our ability to be humane. It robs us of the joy of loving others with the material abundance that God has given. And so, God teaches us to give joyfully and charitably to those in need without fear of our own future. And in the giving, God blesses faith with the joy of life and a certain hope in His eternal giving, rather than our constantly dwindling stores.

What better teaching could there be to prepare for the festival of Jesus’ resurrection, for He is the Man who gave everything that He is and everything that He has to you. He started this giving by prayer in the garden. Thus He went to the cross joyfully, not grudgingly. He refused human comforts and lived by the Word and will of God. On the third day, He was raised again by the glory of the Father—as are all those who come to the Feast of the Resurrection by being buried with Him (Romans 6:4-5). May you thus have a blessed spring.

Friday, February 17, 2012

President Harrison Testifies at Hearing

On Thursday, February 16, the President of the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod was invited to present the views of our church body before the House Oversight Committee. His Opening Statment was 5:20 long and is well worth your time to hear.

As the committee followed up with questions for the panel, there were several other significant exchanges which are worth the listen.

By the way...

Notice the tattered blue book on the table in front of him? That is his Greek New Testament, falling apart from use.