Monday, February 19, 2018

Lent Words Day 5: Fast

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"
Isaiah 58:6-7

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, 
for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. 
Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 
But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 
so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, 
but only to your Father, who is unseen; 
and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, 
will reward you."
Matthew 6:16-18

I have this thing. I don't exactly know what to call it. An issue, a pet-peeve, baggage - I don't know. Anyway, here it is: I don't like to do things just because other people are doing them. My husband and I don't observe days like Sweetest Day or Valentine's Day. I don't want a gift or a sentiment simply because some holiday (or card company) said to do so. I want something that expresses love from my husband on a random Tuesday simply because he was thinking about me. That speaks volumes of love to me!

So, as a result of this "thing" I'm a bit adverse to traditions. I'm also ambivalent about the times in our church services when we are asked to respond in some way that is visual or verbal. I'm afraid of doing something that might not be true, because we are being asked to. I struggle with the possibility that people are not participating out of authenticity. So, I feel a kind of rebellion stir up in me about corporate responses, traditions, even some holidays.

This has also been true for me in the past about Lenten fasting. I don't want to do it simply because everyone else is. I don't want to fast from something convenient, like sweets.  Because, quite honestly, I need to loose some weight and sweets are a big barrier and combining this with Lenten fasting would kill two birds with one stone. I'm just afraid that action may end up being selfish and hollow and not honor God. Please, please, please don't take offense if you are fasting from sweets! What I'm trying to get at here is motive and heart.

Today's passage in Matthew 6 is a part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus took many of the traditional religious practices of his day (and ours) and turned them upside-down. Where people were following laws that they thought were making them holy, Jesus now points them to examine their motive and heart. Throughout the Gospels Jesus comes up against the Pharisees, the religious leaders and teachers of the day. They regulated keeping the over 600 laws that the Jewish people had established as the guidelines for holy living. The problem, Jesus would point out time and time again, is that often following laws or rules can lead to hypocrisy - actions without meaning. Jesus addressed this issue with the Pharisees in Matthew 23, often called the Seven Woes. Matthew 23:23 for example,
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."
There's a Pharisee hiding in each one of us. We too, face the danger of having good practices, such as tithing, fasting, Bible study and prayer, becoming meaningless practices that have lost their purpose in shaping us for holiness. We need to continually examine our heart and motive and place ourselves before God for His examination of our heart and our actions (Psalm 139:23-24), so that we do not become cups that are clean and shiny on the outside, yet full of dirt on the inside. See Matthew 23:25-26.

I have to say that this is not where I intended to go when I first thought of writing this post. But it's where I've landed as I've read the above verses and have thought about fasting. I spent time in prayer prior to the start of the Lent season seeking God on what to fast from. My desire was to practice both of the disciplines known as the disciplines of abstinence and engagement - both removing something and adding something. And they had to be something that would position myself for further work of the Spirit in areas where God is calling me to have a change of heart. The reality is that I cannot change my heart, only God can do that. But I can position myself through spiritual disciplines and decisive actions, so that I open myself in obedience to God changing my heart and shaping me into Christ-likeness.

Join us for Lent Words 2018: A Creative Challenge Through the Season of Lent. Private Facebook group:

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Lent Words Day 4: Repentance

"Yet even now, says the Lord,
    return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
    rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
    and relents from punishing."
Joel 2:12-13 (NRSV)

Joel 2:12-13 paints one of the best pictures of repentance in the Bible. To repent is to turn away from sin and to turn back to God - to return to Him. As we saw in Thursday's post, turn/repent in Hebrew is the word Shuwb, pronounced shuv.

"Repentance is not so much an emotion as it is an attitude toward God. It is a reorientation of life from self to Him. It denotes a willingness to change and be changed." Bob Utley,

Walk with me through today's passage: God, speaking through the prophet Joel, says to His people, "Yet even now". The first thing we learn about God in this passage is that no matter how many times we fall back into sin, God's grace and love continually calls us back to Him. 

"Return to me with all you heart". Return is a command in this verse. We are called by God to action. The very notion of repentance in the Bible means a change of action. We turn from what we are doing (sin) and change to a new action  - God's way. Repentance requires both actions; turning away from sin and turning back to God. Note that He adds "with all you heart".  God wants our whole heart and devotion. (Deuteronomy 6:5). Mere actions will not please Him, The condition of our heart is what He desires. "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." Psalm 51:17 (NRSV)

And how are we to return to Him with our whole heart? "With fasting, with weeping, with mourning."  At it's root, sin is rebellion against God. For true repentance to take place there must be deep sorrow over our act of rebellion. Sin grieves the heart of God. In Ezekiel 6:9 God says, "I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me..." Repentance begins with sorrow and mourning.

"Rend your hearts and not your clothing." To rend something means to tear it or rip it apart. Tearing a garment at the neck was an Old Testament mourning ritual. The problem with external rituals is that over time they can lose their significance, become rote, and do little to render heart-change. God is not looking for us to simply go through motions. He wants heart-change. When our hearts change by the power of the Holy Spirit, then our actions will change as a natural result.

Again, in this passage, God calls us to return to Him, this time making a more personal appeal: "Return to the Lord, your God." His appeal to us is based on our relationship with Him, as a Father appeals to His children. In our rebellion, His love calls us back to Him. God then reminds us that it is because of who He is that we can return to Him. He is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, He relents from punishing. This list of God's characteristics is taken from Exodus 34:6-7 and are God's own words in response to Moses asking God to show who He is. The words from this passage in Exodus are then repeated time and time again throughout the Bible as a reminder to God's people of who He is. 

God's character encourages and draws us to repent and return. We bear a responsibility to repent for our sin and change our action, but it is not our behavior that draws the grace and favor of God. In repentance we receive the grace and favor of God because of who He is. Grace and compassion, forgiveness and love are God's nature. 

Lent is a season of repentance, heart-change, and returning to the Lord. We mourn over our sin, fasting from the things that turn us away from God in order to return to Him wholeheartedly.

Today's page with yesterday's.

Join us for Lent Words 2018: A Creative Challenge Through the Season of Lent. Private Facebook group:

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Lent Words Day 2:Turn

"Direct me in the path of your commands,
    for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes
    and not toward selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
    preserve my life according to your word."
Psalm 119:35-37

I originally wasn't planning on doing a post today, but today's word and this verse struck me. In Hebrew the word turn is also the word used for repent.(Shuwb, pronounced shuv). Although it is not the same word used for turn in the above passage, it carries the same meaning. To repent is to turn away from sin and to turn your heart to God. It's a fitting word for this day after Ash Wednesday when we are reminded of our sinfulness. This awareness is meant to help us turn back to God - toward His statutes, His laws, His ways. Take some time to turn your heart toward God today.

If today is the first day you are reading about Lent Words 2018: A Creative Challenge Through the Season of Lent,  then I invite you to join us. There is a private Facebook group where you can join the conversation:

Another group I am co-leading this year is called Everyday Journals ~ Living Your Word of the Year.
Bernice Hopper, Valerie Sjodin and I are using one journal to record events, experiences and relationships and  to explore our word’s meaning in visual and fun ways. We are each blogging about our experiences and our art. If you would like to connect with others about creatively organizing your word, your ideas, thoughts, prayers, events, or your projects all in one journal, you are invited to join our Facebook group: Everyday Journals – Living Your Word of the Year.

Hashtags on Instagram: #everydayjournals2018, #livingyourword2018

Check out the other blogs:

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Our Journey Through Lent Begins

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lent Season. Today we begin a journey of reflection and sacrifice, mourning and celebration, abstinence and engagement. We set aside this season of Lent as a time of remembering the sacrifice of Christ, and in turn committing to sacrifice as well, following in His steps. We practice spiritual disciplines, not as a way to gain God's favor and holiness, but as a way to mourn our sinfulness, lest we take for granted the gift of grace through salvation in Christ. Today, if we participate in an Ash Wednesday service, we will receive ashes on our foreheads in the shape of a cross to remind us that there, on the cross, Jesus paid the price for our sin to redeem us.

"For you are dust and to dust you will return." Genesis 3:19

Throughout the Bible ashes or dust are used symbolically of mourning, death and repentance. 2 Samuel 3:19, Esther 4:1-3, Job 42:6, Ezekiel 27:30-31, Matthew 11:21 are just a few examples of how ashes/dust are used. Author Ruth Haley Barton explains the significance of Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent well:

"Ash Wednesday also initiates a season of acknowledging our sinfulness. In very intentional ways, we invite God to search us and know us and (eventually) to lead us into resurrection life. The ashes marking our foreheads carry the same meaning contained in the Old Testament practice of covering oneself with ashes: they are an outward sign of an inward repentance and mourning as we become aware of our sin. This, too, is good for us because we live in so much denial. Facing our sin in the shadow of Christ’s cross and impending resurrection is the healthiest way to deal with our sin.

The inner dynamics of Lent have to do with fasting or abstaining from the ways we normally distract ourselves from what’s really going on in our lives spiritually—the reality of our sin and the deeply patterned behaviors that keep us from our calling to follow Christ. We allow some of the external trappings of our lives to be stripped away so that we can find our true identity and calling in God once again. We acknowledge the subtle temptations to which we are prone rather than pretending we are beyond temptation. We face the spiritual reality of the battle being waged for our very souls."

I have not participated in the Lent practice of fasting or self-denial in the past. But this year as I have prayed and looked at what God's Spirit has been pressing into in my life, I decided to participate by engaging in some practices that in so doing are actually a practice in abstinence. Over the past year God has enabled me to experience some healing in some areas of my life. Emotional and relational areas that became damaged as a result of my not dealing well with loss and disappointment over a period of time. As is often the case, when you become healthier in one area it opens your eyes to other areas that need restoration. For me, I have become aware of a lack of loving others well in some areas of my life. I wrote the other day about how spending some time studying Hebrews 12:1-3 opened my eyes to the reality that being "weighed down and entangled" keeps me from living in the flow (my word for the year) of the Spirit. How I react to people and not  loving others well is something that weighs me down. So, for this Lent season I am going to try to abstain from the feelings and habits that get in the way of loving others. I'm going to engage in kindness and extend grace and forgiveness in those times when I feel inclined to have my way or feel defensive or the need to be right. I'm going to be asking myself questions like, what do I need to give up to be more loving and what do I need to practice? I have not totally figured out what this looks like or even what to call it, but I feel the need to practice it. To deny myself in those times when ego or pride want to have their way and instead to practice humility and kindness. 

So, how are you practicing sacrifice in this season of Lent? Are you participating in Lent in any way this year? 

Here on my blog I'll be posting a few devotional writings/Bible studies each week surrounding Lent words. I have also invited some fellow sojourners to write guest posts in the weeks ahead. On this post from last week you'll find a list of 40 words with corresponding Bible verses or passages. We have a group of people who are responding creatively to these Lent Words for 2018. They will be sharing their responses in a private Facebook group or on Instagram.

Join us, it's simple:
  • Follow this blog by putting your email address in the box in the right hand column to be notified when new posts are published
  • Join the Lent Words 2017 Facebook group where you can share your art and ideas and join the conversation through the Lent season.
  • Share on Instagram and other social media with the hashtag #lentwords2018.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Why Lent?

The other day, I mentioned that I am working on redeeming part of my childhood story. We come into adulthood with perceptions we gained through our experiences in childhood. Some are good, some are bad, some are skewed by the lens of our experience and our feelings that have been shaped by those experiences. Many of us spend a good portion of our adulthood re-forming those childhood perceptions to resemble something closer to reality.

I was born and raised Catholic until my early teen years when my parents divorce led to my mother's parting of ways with the Catholic Church. I entered adulthood with many of my perspectives of God and religion shaped by what I saw in childhood. Many of the adults in my childhood lived out a faith that was only seen on Sunday mornings, so I had this image of faith being hypocritical, wearing a false mask. As a result, I saw many of the church traditions as empty ritual. In my late 20's when I came into a relationship with Christ and began reading the Bible with adult eyes, I felt anger at a church that abandoned my mother when she needed them the most. I felt anger over their rituals that didn't seem to lead people to the life expressed in God's Word. In the church I began my faith walk in, traditions such as Advent and Lent were not observed, and so I continued with my perception of these being empty ritual.

A few things have happened in the past few years that have begun to re-shape some of my childhood perceptions, things that have started this journey of redeeming words and traditions. It started with Advent for me. I won't go into that part of my story today. But if you would like you can read some of it hereAnyway, over the past few years I have experienced healing, renewal and have found great life and faith in the Advent practices, so I decided that in 2018 I would follow the Christian year and now we find ourselves at the start of Lent.

A funny thing happened last year: I went to the Ash Wednesday service at my church for the first time. I had stayed away in the past due to the above mentioned perspective from my childhood. But, in all honesty, out of the redemption I experienced observing Advent over the past few years, I decided I was ready to tackle some other church traditions. So, I attended the Ash Wednesday service, received the ashes on my forehead and made a significant discovery. My aversion to the Ash Wednesday service, that I had viewed as empty ritual, actually had nothing to do with the practices that went on in the service. What did happen that night was a migraine was triggered. I suffered from migraines from my pre-teen years into my late 30's. Some, it turned out, were hormonal, but others are triggered by  changes in my routine or by external forces, mainly through my sinuses.  Things like low barometric pressure when storm fronts comes through, certain artificial smells from candles, perfumes, potpourri, etc. impact me and can trigger a migraine. I can pretty much keep them under control now by keeping routine eating and sleeping habits and by trying to avoid things that trigger my sinuses. So the thing I discovered at the Ash Wednesday service was that the incense used traditionally in the service is a trigger for my migraines. I cannot remember how early my migraines started but I was fairly young - under 12 at least. It was both ironic and freeing to discover that something I had lumped together with the "empty ritual" of my childhood was not actually a negative feeling due to a bad religious experience, but was simply a reaction to a bad physical experience! Something I can have some control over to some extent. This experience really helped further the journey I have been on to be free from false perceptions and to live authentically. 

In God's Kingdom good comes out of bad - this is redemption, this is His story in our lives. For me, these perceptions of religion I came out of childhood with have served to shape me into a person who values authenticity.

This week we begin the journey of Lent on Wednesday which is know as Ash Wednesday. Lent is a 40 day journey, excluding Sundays, from Ash Wednesday to Easter. The 40 days is meant to remind us of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness facing temptation. Lent includes periods of self-reflection, denial through fasting, repentance and confession, and ultimately ends in rejoicing and celebration for the life we have in the resurrected Christ. We will explore all of this in Lent Words 2018, a Creative Challenge Through the Season of Lent. Throughout the period of Lent there will be blog posts here a few times a week based on the words and associated passages written by myself and some guests. I invite you to participate in the Lent Words Facebook group, the Everyday Journals Facebook group and on Instagram (use #lentwords2018). The list of Lent Words can be found on this blog post or in the Lent Words Facebook group.

I would like to offer a few resources if you are looking for reading material through the Lent season:

I would also recommend reading today's blog post by author Shelly Miller. If you sign up for email notifications she is offering a free download of her Lent book: A Sabbath Journey for Lent: Sacrifice a Day for Rest and Experience the Sacrifice of Christ Anew.

You will see quotes from the above resources in my art and in my blog posts throughout the season.

A note about Amazon links on my blog:

I am giving Amazon affiliation a try, which means I may receive a small percentage off sales made through clicking on the Amazon links found on my blog. There is no additional cost to you.