Tag Archives: Easter

Giving Up and Giving Out: Reflections on Lent

I grew up in what many call a “low” church tradition.  Besides Christmas and Easter, we did not follow the rhythms of any traditional annual liturgical calendar.  I thought that sacred seasons like Lent were only practiced by more “rigid” and “ritualistic” denominations.  For my classmates attending such churches, Lent was a time to complain about all the things they wanted but couldn’t have because they had to “give it up for Lent.”  Consequently, the practice held little attraction for me.  I enjoyed the spiritual freedom of eating, drinking, and doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. 

It was only after moving to Singapore that I began to hear and think more seriously about the meaning, practices, and significance of Lent.  I learned that because Easter is celebrated toward the beginning of spring, the word “Lent” comes from the old English word that means to “lengthen,” referring to the time when the days getting longer in the northern hemisphere.  In addition, I realized that Lent is linked not only to the Easter event, but also to the 40 days of fasting Jesus experienced in the wilderness at the onset of His active earthly ministry.

I also began to appreciate how Lent was really a privilege and gracious invitation to grow nearer to Jesus Christ through acts of identification and participation in His sacrifice and sufferings on my behalf.  Jesus willingly left His heavenly position of power and prestige to live the humiliating life of every man (Phil 2:5-8; Heb 2:14-18), endure hardship, temptation, and weakness (Luke 4:1-13), and ultimately give His life as a faultless and sufficient sacrifice for sin (2 Cor 5:21).

In giving up His life, Jesus simultaneously gave us His moral righteousness, divine position, and eternal life, by forgiving us, raising us from the dead, and seating us with Him in the heavenly places the moment we placed our faith in Him (Eph 2:4-9).  As we think deeply upon this unwarranted kindness and grace of God in Christ, we should be overwhelmed by His undeserved, sacrificial, and immeasurable love.  It should compel us to ask, “How can I thank you, Lord, and how can I more deeply appreciate all that Christ has done for me?”

Leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter, Lent calls us to a time of voluntary hardship, reflection, and thanksgiving to help us to enter more fully into His sacrificial life, humiliating death, and glorious resurrection.  We do this in two primary ways: giving up and giving out.  By giving up, we willingly sacrifice something important and pleasurable to us; a beloved food, a favorite TV show, a special drink, an entertaining activity like being on social media.  This “What?” must be decided upon between you and the Lord, but the idea is to suffer the loss of something you love and enjoy as a concrete reminder of all that Christ lovingly sacrificed for you.

But Lent is not meant to be merely a call to give up.  Just as Christ gave up many things, He also gave out—offering us forgiveness, holiness, honor, hope, and eternal life through His giving up.  Thus, Lent also calls us to give out in our giving up.  As we sacrifice something for the season of Lent, we are also encouraged to think of it as a time to give to others what we don’t typically or easily give.  It might be the offer kindness and forgiveness to someone you would rather remain angry with.  It might be the gift of food or drink or money or time or service.  Again, the “What?” is something to discern from the Lord.  But as you live in sacrifice through Lent, you are also called to live in generosity and joyful thanksgiving for all that God has given you by sharing those gracious blessings with others.

In the end, there is a certain mystery to Lent.  When done for the wrong reasons, it can become prideful, misdirected, and nothing more than a dead or legalistic ritual, devoid of any real meaning or benefit.  But when done with the right attitude through the power and love of His Holy Spirit, profound spiritual growth and Christian maturity results, and God is both pleased and glorified.

Living the Life God Meant You to Live

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Growing up in church, I heard a lot about Jesus’ resurrection.  Even as a young child I realized it must be important, but somehow failed to appreciate it as anything more than another interesting historical event in the life of Jesus that all good Christians were supposed to believe.

And every Easter I heard about the intellectual and historical reason why we should believe Jesus rose from the dead:  According to 1 Corinthians 15:6, there were more than five hundred eyewitnesses to the resurrected Lord.  Friend and foe alike admitted the tomb was empty.  The disciples gave their lives for the unwavering conviction that Jesus rose from the grave.

Only later in my Christian walk did I begin to more deeply understand that while the raw fact of the resurrection is a critically important and foundational truth supporting the basic infrastructure of Christian belief (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:14-20), the significance of Jesus’ resurrection went far beyond historical claims about the life and death of Jesus.  It was more than a fact to be believed.  It was a present spiritual reality to be empirically evident in the daily life of every believer.

Paul makes this very clear in Romans 6:4-13 where he explains that just as Christ was raised from the dead, believers in Jesus have also been raised with Him that “we too might walk in newness of life.”  Everything that was wicked and wrong about our lives was nailed to the cross and left in the grave after Christ’s resurrection.  We have been freed by the resurrection to obey God and live again in a way that was previously unattainable and unimaginable.

The power and fear of death have been conquered!  The law no longer condemns us!  Sin no longer has any mastery over us!  Through Christ’s resurrection power we are finally free to be “instruments of righteousness” (verse 13) and live the life God meant us to live; a life of unmatched love, grace, confidence, joy, and holiness, a powerful, beautiful, wonderful life!

Easter is more than just the fact of the resurrection, although that fact remains the bedrock of all that flows out from it.  As Christians we are called to proclaim the fact of the resurrection not only as an historical event, but also as a living and present reality.  And that proclamation is heard most clearly when we incessantly live truly holy lives freed from sin and released to be instruments of righteousness through the power of God’s gracious Holy Spirit.

This Easter—and every day which follows—let God play upon the instrument of your life the sweet melody of His beautiful holiness so that others can hear, respond, and embrace the forgiving, transforming power of Christ’s transforming resurrection!