Category Archives: Loving and Following Jesus

I’m Giving Up Religion for Lent

It’s nearly a week after Ash Wednesday, and I still haven’t decided what I’m giving up for Lent. The beginning of the season always seems to sneak up on me. However, I’m not sure I’d be any closer to knowing what to give up if I’d thought about it for a week, or a month. I didn’t grow up in a church that emphasized this practice. I learned about it more fully in graduate school. I had a friend who gave up meat one year, cheese the next, and sugar the one after that. (Are you kidding me!? Aren’t those three major food groups? What’s left to eat?!) I’ve had friends give up television. (What are you supposed to do all night after work?) I gave up caffeine one year. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more tired… or cranky. I fasted one day a week another year… same result as the caffeine.

Lent is the season leading to Easter where we connect with Christ in His suffering. The 40 days of Lent represent the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning His ministry. We sacrifice something during this time as a way to draw closer to Jesus and share in His suffering. However, that has rarely been my experience in the past. For starters, there is this dilemma – so many options seem too difficult to give up and yet everything pales in comparison to the cross.  Jesus gave His life for me and I’m wondering how to survive 40 days without Facebook. Then once I’ve selected something, instead of focusing on Jesus in the midst of the sacrifice, my thoughts tend to become consumed with whatever I’ve chosen to give up. I look for loopholes and then the legalistic side of me condemns and pours on the guilt when I slip up.  As I study the life of Jesus, he didn’t sacrifice out of guilt. He didn’t look for loopholes to get out of it. And he certainly sacrifice out of legalism.

In fact, Jesus spoke out against those who condemned and those whose practiced legalism. The only people Jesus really every got seriously angry with were religious people – the Pharisees. He called them blind, a brood of vipers, and thieves. They were self-righteous and judgmental. They looked down on others because of their ability to live according to the rules in a way that others could not. Jesus showed everyone else he encountered kindness, gentleness, love, and compassion – including those the Pharisees refused to even associate with because they were “sinners”.

So I’ve decided that I’m giving up religion for Lent. I’m giving up the thing that angered him the most because it was the very thing that kept people from him. I’m giving up pride. I’m giving up judging others. I’m giving up false humility. I’m giving up selfishness. I don’t want to be a Pharisee anymore. Yes, I’ll fail during the next 40 days, but when I do, instead of pouring on legalistic guilt, I’m going to turn to Jesus knowing that He’ll meet me with the same love and compassion today that He showed sinners two thousand years ago. So I’m giving up religion for Lent so I can gain a closer relationship with Christ.

What have you decided to sacrifice or change during Lent this year? What comes to mind when you consider how Jesus treated people during His time on earth? What does Jesus’ sacrifice mean to you?

Lessons from “A League of their Own”

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A League of Their Own has always been one of my favorite movies. Tom Hanks plays Jimmy Dugan, a washed up former Major League ball player whose career was cut short by his own drinking problem. He’s given one last shot at a career in baseball when he’s offered a position as manager of the Rockford Peaches, a team in the newly formed All American Girls Baseball League. Gina Davis plays Dottie Hinson, the catcher for the Peaches and the best player in the league. When her husband returns from the war, Dottie decides to quit just before the playoffs are set to begin. In my favorite scene, as Dottie is about to leave the team, Jimmy looks at her and says, “I never thought of you as a quitter. Baseball gets inside of you. It’s what lights you up.” Dottie responds with, “It just got too hard.” Jimmy replies with, “It’s supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.”

So often I avoid doing things that seem “too hard.” I fail to remember that “the hard” is what makes it great. And more importantly, “the hard” is what makes God great. If I never choose to do hard things that stretch me beyond my own gifts, talents, and abilities, I’ll never tap into the power of the living God in me – the same power that gave sight to the blind, calmed the sea, and raised the dead. I’m called to do hard things so that my name becomes less and God’s name becomes more. It’s supposed to be hard so I’m forced to rely on God. I’m forced into a place of trust and dependence on His strength and power. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” And the more I learn to lean on God and trust in Him, the more my faith grows. The more my faith grows, the more God “gets inside of me” and “lights me up inside.”

There’s no doubt that taking the risk to do something beyond my own ability is scary. Trusting God takes courage. However, God knows what He is doing! Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God knows more than we do. He is a good God. He can be trusted. Yes, it is difficult to risk failure by stepping out in faith to do the hard things that God may call us to, but it isn’t really our reputation on the line. It is God’s! If we follow God’s lead, we can’t fail! And remember, any success we experience is really God’s victory, not ours. 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” In our fragile and weak moments, God’s power is able to shine all the more.

Where my abilities end, God’s begin.

When I am incompetent, God is competent.

When I am incapable, God is more than able.

When I am weak, God is strong.

When I am fearful, God is bold and courageous.

When I tend to back down, God is more than a conqueror.

When I am powerless, God is powerful.

When I’m ready to quit, God “lights me up inside” and provides the hope and passion to persevere.

What “hard thing” might God be calling you to do? And what obstacles keep you from stepping out in faith?

Experience Changes Everything

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I’ve been to more concerts than I can count. I love the experience of live music and spent much of my youth chasing my favorite bands around the country. When I first started attending concerts, location was everything. I’d fight and claw and scratch my way towards the front. I’d stand my ground against the jostling and positioning of others. I’d jump and sway with abandon, not caring about what others thought. This changed as I got older. With each passing year, I slowly moved farther back and I progressively became more passive during each show.

Recently, I attended a concert of one of my favorite artists held on a college campus. As I walked into the gymnasium with the student who had graciously secured the treasured ticket, I headed towards the bleachers in the back, as I had become accustomed to doing. I heard her say, “No, Karen, this way” pointing toward the mob standing before the stage. Suddenly the changes I had made in my approach to concerts became apparent! I found myself surrounded by excited college students, and I was suddenly quite aware that I was not one! Insecurities initially overwhelmed me – I’m too old, I don’t belong. However, excitement for the experience soon took over and I found myself no longer annoyed by the student repeatedly bumping into me as he jumped, or put off by the smell of sweat salient in the air.

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And then something truly special happened. The artist jumped down into the crowd, breaking the barrier between performer and audience. And I was a part of it all. He realized he’d spent too much time among his adoring fans, and looked right at me as he proclaimed “I’ve got to get back to the stage!” Then he ran past me, actually knocking into my shoulder, as he scrambled back to the stage. At that moment I realized that I would have significantly missed out had I been sitting in the bleachers. I would have observed, but I would not have experienced.

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The Bible says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” After my concert revelation, I have to ask myself, “How often do I observe God instead of experiencing His goodness?” How often do I choose to sit on the bleachers in the back instead of standing in the crowd in front?  How often do I convince myself that sitting in the back is really no different than standing in the front when really I’ve missed out on something special and unique and maybe even life changing? The truth is that it is easier to sit in the bleachers. The bleachers are comfortable. It is work to stand in the front. It’s hot, smelly, crowded, and exhausting. But it’s in the front where the possibility of experiencing and even participating in the action takes place.

God seems to be inviting us to come to the front, to fight the crowds, to withstand the discomfort for a taste of what He has to offer. Is it possible that He is even inviting us to participate? What if He jumps into the crowd? Do you want to be in the bleachers or in the crowd with a chance of reaching out and touching Him and perhaps even receiving something from Him or being invited to join Him?

Now perhaps I’ve pushed the metaphor too far, as we are all called to join Jesus in bringing God’s kingdom to earth and because the Holy Spirit lives in the heart of every believer, we can fulfill this calling. And obviously Jesus isn’t a performer on a stage. But stay with me here, at one point He spoke to the masses – some clamored to be near him, some risked everything to touch him, some watched from a distance with skepticism, and some simply walked away. What about Zacchaeus who climbed a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus? Jesus ate at his house that day! What about the bleeding woman who dared to touch His cloak? She was healed after 12 years of suffering! What about the men whose love for their friend was so great that they destroyed a roof in order to lower him down to Jesus. Their friend was healed in more ways than one! Those who dared to get the closest to Him, experienced Him, and were never the same again. Those people ended up changing the world. Those who kept their distance have long been forgotten and are but an anonymous footnote in the annals of history.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve decided it is time that I stop sitting on the bleachers just observing. True change happens through experience. Learning about the artist and knowing the lyrics to the songs is great, but can never replace the impact and transformational potential of the experience. In order to truly believe that I am God’s beloved child and to truly comprehend His great love for me, I need to experience Him, not just learn about Him. It’s time I head to the front to fully experience His presence, and to “taste and see”. I hope you join me.