The Old Testament reading for this Sunday is the familiar passage from Exodus containing the 10 Commandments. I think often times we look at these commandments negatively as God telling his people, “Do this, don’t do that.” While God simply telling us either to do or not to do something is certainly a good enough reason that we should obey Him, His commandments go much deeper than just a list of rules.
One thing that has been on my mind this Lent is freedom. I want to be free from seeking fulfillment in worldly things, so that I can have a deeper relationship with God. Part of Lent is disciplining our bodies by not eating meat on Fridays and any number of other personal disciplines anyone has taken on. By denying our bodies good things like meat that it desires, it helps prepare ourselves to deny sinful desires when we are tempted.
The 10 Commandments point us to the freedom we are meant to have. While God does tell us things not to do, it is so we can be free. When God gave the Israelites the 10 Commandments, he had already freed them from actual slavery in Egypt. The Israelites knew exactly what it was like to be a slave. God freed them from the Egyptians but also wanted them to be free from sin so they could properly love and worship him. The 10 Commandments gave them the basic starting point to be free. If the Israelites disobeyed the commandments and worshipped other gods or coveted their neighbor’s goods they would no longer be free. They would be slaves to sin and to the things of this world.
By giving up unnecessary things of the world during Lent, it helps us to focus on the necessary things like our relationship with God. In my own life, I gave up several things starting January 1st and will continue these disciplines through Lent. While the things I’ve given up are good things like certain foods or other things that can be used for good, it is important to keep worldly things in the proper place and perspective in our lives. I have already realized in the last couple months how much fulfillment I sought in things of this world. By seeking freedom and not fulfillment from sin and other worldly things, our hope and prayer is to grow closer to God throughout Lent and the rest of our lives.
Oh… lent. Are you feeling like you’re in the desert yet? Last Week’s blog was about finding your desert, your lonely place. Your stuck place. Your, perhaps shameful place. and inviting Jesus into it. Sometimes Jesus does not take our deserts away… he just sits with us in it, helps defeat your temptations in it…
But this Sunday’s readings are not necessarily about sharing our dry and weariness with Him, it’s about GIVING him all that we love.
You see in the First Reading, it’s the story from Genesis about Abraham sacrificing his only (and very long awaited) son Isaac. Abraham is called the Father of Faith for a couple of reasons, but this one is pretty memorable. I mean imagine… Abraham was promised a son from God for YEARS. I mean like 50 years or something. Isaac was born when Abraham and Sarah were OLD! BUT God fulfilled his promise to Abraham… that he would indeed have a son who would be the father of many decedents.
Then God asks Abraham to give Isaac back via human sacrifice. I’d be all, “Ummmm, that was not a part of the plan, God?! I thought I got to keep my son?!?”
But Abraham was all, “Here I am” and obeyed, faithful that God’s promises are indeed rich, and abundant, and better than we could imagine. After following along with God’s plan and moments from sacrificing his beloved son, an angel stops Abraham and calls for him to release his son.
After witnessing the faith of Abraham, God says,
“in not withholding from me your beloved son,
I will bless you abundantly.”
So this week in lent, I ask you… What are you holding onto tightly? What do you love most in this world? Is it your family? Your friends? Your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse? Your kids? Your career? Your money? Your dog? What?
Most of us are afraid to even to there, thinking something like, “I don’t want to tell you what I love because you’re going to tell me I have to give that up!”
Take 5 minutes and watch Father Larry Richards tell this beautiful story about The Man from Crete. It gave me chills.
I'm not sure about you, but I feel that way with a lot of things in my life. I feel this way about God's Plan for my life... like it's somehow a sacrifice of all that I hold dear or something. It’s scary to sacrifice all that we love, because we are fooled into thinking that we are saying goodbye! But God writes our deepest desires on our hearts, he is the author of all that is good and perfect and pleasing in our eyes. He wouldn't have us love something so dear, just to take it away. He just wants to join us in that, and make it perfect.
What (or who) are we holding too close to our hearts? What is our Crete? Our Teddy Bear? Our Only Son?
Is God truly the most important thing in our life right now? Are we willing to give him everything we have, so he can give us everything we’ve ever wanted?
Lent is coming. Are you ready? The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent is short and sweet, but packed with so many levels of understanding.
Here’s the Gospel:
"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.
After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
"This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel."
That first sentence, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert” causes me to stop and think and pray quite a bit. Now, I’m not sure about you, but giving up something for Lent usually does not involve a lot of the Spirit. Usually, it’s me thinking, “I have not been eating well and spend a lot of my time thinking about Food instead of God… so I'll give up sweets for lent.”… or soda… or going out to eat… and then that’s it. Usually within two weeks of Lent, I fail! Hahah sound familiar?
My challenge for you before Lent officially kicks off this Wednesday is to STOP. THINK. and PRAY by inviting the Holy Spirit into your life and let the SPIRIT DRIVE you into your desert, a place that will tempt you, a place that is difficult, a place that is lonely at times, a place where you can let the angels minister to you.
Then this Sunday, when you hear this gospel, that first line, “The Spirit drove Jesus into the desert”, imagine that the Spirit drives Jesus into your desert. Let Jesus fight your battles, your temptations, give them to him. Stop trying to do everything yourself and invite Jesus into your darkest places.
This is Lent. This is difficult. This is why he came and died for us. When we let him fight for us, we get to rise with Him. He is our answer.
What is your desert? Will you let Jesus in it?
As we gear up for the season of Len (WED, FEB 14th!!), I’d like to share something that moved me so deeply about the power and chains of guilt and how we are NOT called to carry guilt around… we are called to confess and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness!
Now, as lent approaches, many of us are thinking about things to ‘give up’. May I suggest the guilt you may be carrying around. You see, the readings for this Sunday are about burdened people who are in need of God’s mercy. God is the Breaker of Chains.
This reminds me of one of my favorite movies of all time, The Mission. Seriously, watch it. You'll bawl like a baby but leave inspired. There is this scenewhere a man (played by de Niro) is carrying around this huge burden of armor as a penance for the sins he committed (He previously persecuted the villagers he is now about to serve by enslaving and selling them for profit, and killing his brother).
This huge pack is slowing him down, making his journey exhausting, but he carries it, believing this burden is somehow justice for the terrible sins he committed. Near the end of his journey, he encounters the people who had persecuted for so long, the people who had every right to hate him. One of these villagers leans over him to cut his burden free. He helps de Niro up and welcome him to their village.
Tears. Letting go. Forgivenss. Freedom.
How many of us are carrying around guilt that slows us down or makes us feel unworthy? How many of us feel that forgiveness for our sins is too generous? How many of us believe we are too far gone for God’s mercy?
God’s mercy and forgiveness are ALWAYS waiting for us. No matter what. No matter who.
Confess your sins and throw that burden away! You’ll feel lighter, better, freer.
Here’s to a weightless lent, you all!
Word up. I am Stacy, the youth minister of this amazing group of teens. I have 4 kids of my own, 2 heaven babies and like 60 teens I consider very large children of my own.