Lent: Death to Self…That’s So First Century

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Ah Lent begins today.  It brings back memories of fish on Fridays and giving something up until Easter.  When I was a kid, I’d give up sweets but that was problematic because my birthday always lands during Lent.  But the basic premise was to give up some sort of luxury so that we could spend more time on preparation of our hearts.  It was a time of denying life’s pleasures so we could draw nearer to Christ.  However, in the life of a believer, death to self should be a lifestyle, not a season.  It’s not some outdated apostolic practice.  I mentioned to a friend recently who was going through a difficult time that the very crux of our faith is dying to ourselves.  He rolled his eyes back…and that bothered me because too often, that’s our attitude as American Christians.

We don’t always have to be right
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19).  We are not immune to daily squabbles and arguments, whether in isolated situations or in the midst of a culture war.  I believe that too often our personal dignity matters more than the truth of God’s Word.  This is not an excuse to get all passive-aggressive but it is an encouragement to recognize when conversations are no longer fruitful.  Arguments are about self, discussions lead to understanding.

We don’t have to demand our rights
“Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God” (Philippians 2:6).  Yes, we live in the “land of the free” but our true freedom comes from Christ.  No matter what the Constitution or laws dictate, we are FREE in Christ.  We should never fear losing status, privilege, or favor when it comes to human standards.  The more we surrender to Christ, the more freedom we have to live for Him.  So, no Nativity scenes at city hall, no “Merry Christmas” at Target, or no prayer in schools?  Loss of tax exempt status?  Does it really matter?

We don’t have always have to be the center of attention
“He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form” (Philippians 2:7).  Jesus was accustomed to angels bowing before Him and living in the splendor and majesty of His Father.  He gave that up so that we He could do something wonderful and amazing for us.  When we serve God, are we willing to deflect praise to Him?  Or are we quick to recite our “resumes” and accolades to make ourselves look bigger in front of others?  Our conversations are reviews of what we’ve done and what we can do rather than declarations of what God is doing.   When we do that, we cheapen God’s glory and dilute the reward He has prepared for us.  Receiving honor from this success-based society is NEVER our goal.  Our success will be gauged on how well we obey the only One whose praise matters.

We don’t always have to have our way
“Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine” (Luke 22:42).  The older we get, the more entitled we feel.  “We’ve earned it.”  But we must consider that our plans might have hidden motives, or just might be completely wrong.  Do we really believe God knows best?  Does it glorify Him when we go into battle against other Christ followers or non-Christians?  What does our witness look like when we do that?  Perhaps a good study in the fruit of the Spirit is due.

We don’t always have to defend ourselves
“He was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn’t say a word” (Isaiah 53:6).  Even in the face of physical suffering, Christ didn’t pursue self-preservation.  He could have easily called down His Father’s angels to rescue Him but instead focused on His true purpose.  If Jesus managed to remain silent while being brutalized, who are we to speak up when we’re wronged?  I’m sure Iranian Pastors Youcef Nadarkhani and Saeed Abedini can give us some insight on both.

We don’t always have to open our mouths
“Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence” (Isaiah 53:7).  If only…  Could we possibly eliminate the embarrassing and ungodly gaffes on CNN?  Our words are often dripping with self-righteousness, self-recognition, self-justification, and self-aggrandizement.  Personal opinions and preference don’t equal the voice of God, so let’s not presume to speak for Him.  Our silence is more powerful than our voice.  This is even more important in the internet age.  God help us.

Let’s use our voices for godly and productive things like, hmmm, prayer, worship, and being a witness for Christ.  Perhaps that will prepare us and others for His victory more than our pious sacrifices.

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