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Living into Lent

I set my mind on you, Jesus, my life. As my thoughts drift throughout the day please return them often to you. Let the beginning and ending of each thought cycle be of you. Let your kingdom flourish in my mind and produce thoughts of peace, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Let my thoughts find further expression in my body, through acts of service, words of encouragement, and ways to add value to all people I encounter. I set my mind on you, Jesus, today. Please be my life.

We all live in environments that have the potential to damage us. We experienced toxic work environments, endeavors that lack satisfaction, relationships that moan under the stress of contempt and unforgiveness, abrasive colleagues, neighbors that seem, at least to us, irresponsible, and friends that seem only situationally loyal.

In our worst moments, we become defensive, or surrender in quiet desperation, or end up chronically on high alert and over-addicted to fast pace awareness in order to cope with paralyzing fear and anxiety. Our minds churn as scenarios of conflict gone awry multiply before our mind’s eye.

The season of Lent is for you even if the above does not apply. The season of Lent is designed to grow closer to Jesus by growing further apart from our life on earth.

The source of our problems stems from a long evolution of deadly patterns that have captured our heart slowly and often unconsciously. Getting to the bottom of our intention and motivation requires us to decode the mysterious intersecting ways of cause and effect, the desire and motivation, action and consequence.

We must allow the Spirit of God room to work in our minds and hearts and change us so that our minor and major stresses can become opportunities for transformation and witness.

The Lenten season is one characterized by self-examination. To dive beneath the surface of your thoughts is the privilege awaiting you in Lenten practice.

In one of the Teach one to Lead one class as we hold we were teaching about the universal principle of respect. We were asking kids about ways to show disrespect. One kid said, “Thinking.” We asked for clarification and the student replied, “Before I show disrespect I have to think disrespectful thoughts.” How right he was. He spoke a profundity beyond his years.

Our actions begin in our mind, unless they are habits which start and end in our bodies. The way to break a habit is to replace it with a new habit that is life-giving instead of disintegrating. In order to do that we must engage our minds. We must think about what we do and, more importantly, why we do them.

The Lenten season creates the perfect environment to journey into who we are and why we do what we do. We have provided two sermon series to help you do that as well as a small group study that I hope you will prayerfully consider participating in.

Sometimes churches contribute to other’s toxic environments. Sinful people wanting their way can easily wound one another and leave a trail of wreckage behind them. What is the church to do? Forgive, yes, but forgive so completely in a way that wipes the slate clean and heals the wounds. A self-help book or yoga retreat, while helpful for many, cannot do this. Only the gospel, the anything-is-possible God, the vast storehouse of forgiveness with which God separated us from our sin, as far as the east is from the west. This is a beyond-human endeavor. This is not a do-it-yourself enough endeavor. This is a God endeavor.

How can a human heart be changed? Can a weekend seminar? Medication? Psychotherapy? Relaxation techniques? Massage? Spa days? Chanting or journaling? All of these are no doubt helpful, but apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ none of them can effectively change the human heart, yours and mine.

The season of Lent is a time to get in touch with our desperate, hopeless, pitiful need for change, to be saved from our greatest fear, the thickest bonds, the loudest voices, the densest darkness, and transferred to a place called hope, of freedom so profound we stammer around having to learn to walk again without the chains of bondage, a light so bright we shade our eyes from its brilliance.

If it sounds too good to be true, it is in many people’s experience, but if we believe the Bible, it is neither too good to be true nor unavailable to us.

And we will begin our Lenten season with a three-week series talking about how Jesus makes us loyal. He is our defender and loyalty-creator. He defends, saves, redeems, and transforms. This series is a wonderful one to invite someone to, especially those who have struggles with the past and issues that have weighed them down.

Second, we will have a three-week series entitled “A World Without Walls.” This is based on a passage Ephesians where Paul discussed how Jesus knocked down the dividing wall between peoples who until that time spent their worlds separated from one another, but are now brought together in Christ. I am very excited about both of these series and pray that they will be used by you, the congregation, to grow your faith and stretch your prayers to God.

One prayer I am praying through Lent every day is that God would use me, that God would take this frail, broken, flawed lump of clay and accomplish some divine purpose with it. I invite you to pray this prayer too. Pray it every day. Believe it every day. Expect are unstoppable God to accomplish his glory and to use you in that endeavor.

We are also using the Lenten season to raise money for World Vision as they seek to greatly reduce and even abolish world hunger. I am going to set a canning jar on my desk and put money in it whenever I feel like going out and getting a drink. Instead of buying a drink I will put the money in the jar. I may ask you to match whatever I have saved in the jar.

The church of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world! May the season of Lent be a shining pathway to discovery that convinces us passionately about that reality.

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