Saturday, January 3, 2015

Preventing Doubt

"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."~ John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11-12

"What comes to minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."~A.W. Tozer

I began a study on the gospel of Matthew for the new year.  I have read the book of Matthew countless times and have studied using many different well-accepted Biblical tools for analysis.  While those have been very useful and have blessed me, I decided to read through the gospel differently.  I was not reading for information, but reading for spiritual formation.  This requires an approach where the focus is on listening. Spiritual formation is a growth process.  It is the process of becoming whole through mystical, mental, and moral transformation the comes through the dynamic engagement of scripture and the Spirit of God.  

This is my formational nugget from this morning

In Matthew, chapter 3, we are introduced to John the Baptist.  He is identified as a prophet who was prophesied about 700 years before he was born and that he would "prepare the way for the Lord's coming".  He was sort of an eccentric guy but deeply respected.  He is described by Jesus himself as "among those born of women there is no one greater than John." (Lk 7:28).  This highly esteemed prophet understood his historical role as the herald and servant of Jesus.

Interestingly, what struck me in today's reading was John's understanding of the person of Jesus.  You see, in the back of my mind, I am thinking about the end of John's life when he would question if Jesus was really who he said he was (Mt 11:2-6).  This is the same John who would baptize Jesus and be with Jesus when he is confirmed by God publicly by saying audibly, "This is my Son whom I am well pleased".  How could John be unsure?

John describes Jesus ministry in terms of salvation for the righteous and judgment towards those who are unrighteous.  John openly challenged religious people of his time and declared them as "brood of vipers" and states that the coming Messiah would collect the good toward himself and burn/destroy the unproductive and unrighteous.  It is the emphasis on the conquering Messiah portrayed in not only liberation of the righteous, but on punishment and retaliation against the unrighteous and unjust.  

As Jesus' ministry progressed, he was constantly upending conventional expectations.  During his ministry, he did provide hope for the righteous" but spent a majority of his time ministering among the "unrighteous" and "the sinner".  Jesus exercised grace over judgment.  He preached and practiced the "love your enemies" and the non-violent approach to horrific violence and oppression. 

John, despite his being filled with the Holy Spirit since birth (Lk 1:15) experienced a misunderstanding in the nature and person of Jesus.  He began to experience significant doubt in the mission and identity of Jesus because he simply mischaracterized Jesus.

How often do loose faith because we have mischaracterized the object of our faith.  We understand Jesus as our "genie in a bottle", or maybe our "means to prosperity", or even our superman who saves us from badness but has no relationship with us.  When Jesus fails to meet our superimposed expectations, we experience crisis.

Jesus wants to know us and be known.  He is not beholden to the image that others, including very well meaning people, place upon him.  Our role is ask the subversive questions within our own contexts where it is tempting to design a Jesus that meets our desires and  does not challenge our presumptions about ourselves.  When we truly seek the authentic Jesus, we find that Jesus will surprise you because:

Colossians 1:15-20
 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 

I pray that we do not fall into doubt or crisis because our understanding of Jesus is flawed.  After all, according to A.W. Tozer, our understanding of Jesus Character is the most important thing about us.

God bless you,


Monday, August 18, 2014

Recognizing Jesus

“Jesus Christ is God's language.”

– Leonard Sweet And Frank Viola in Jesus: A Theography

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7 NIV)

I am writing this from the deck of the Carnival Dream luxury liner.  It is literally a floating luxury hotel.  Along with 3000+ other passengers, we are speeding our way to Honduras on the first of 3 stops before returning to New Orleans.  

This break has given me the opportunity to just stop.  To simply stop.  There are no sermons to write, reports to return, people to visit, or projects to work on.  It's the gift of rest.  With rest, comes reflection.  Not the strained disciplined dissection of every action, motive, and thought, but the organic consideration of the meaning of things, the purposes of life, the mysteries of spirituality, and value of relationships.

The week prior to this trip, my world was rocked.  One of my favorite people in life died in a tragic accident.   He was a member of the congregation in which I serve on pastoral staff, a campus missionary to colleges in the area, a father, husband, and probably one of the most impactful people I have seen.  Anyone who ever met Jake liked him. He lived soooo well.  At his memorial service, which lasted over 4 hours but had over 1500 people from every spectrum of life there testifying to his impact and influence.  

HIs life in essence was a life of love.  Not the fluffy, emotive affection that we often regard as love (although, his wife shared that he did have some of that too).  No, it was the fierce, sacrificial love that evokes a response.  The kind of love that relentlessly pursues the object of its love.

Coincidentally (but not accidentally), I was reading Old Testament Scholar W. Brueggemann's book "An Unsettled God", devotionally.  One of the many premises that he reveals in his excellent study of the attributes of God is that due to Israel's misunderstanding of the person of God, that God uses language in his redemption to reveal his character in a way that is unmistakable.  The language he uses are "action words" that reveal the true character of God.  (Redemption literally means to "buy back", and in the case of Brueggemann's study refers to the return of a conquored, scattered Israel back to his own land in the 6th century BCE).  These words are ultimately revealed in Jesus and his body, also called the church.  And I am going on record by saying that Jake Baxter exemplified what should be authentic in the church.

Four words:

1. Gather:  God spoke of "gathering Israel".  The nature of God is to gather people together and unify them in community.  Jesus came to "break down" the dividing wall between people, people groups and even that with God.  Jake Baxter was a master community developer.  Beginning with his home that housed friends, outsiders, the marginalized, and the opportunistic.  All were welcome, all felt like they belonged.  He showed hospitality as a lifestyle, not simply an event.  Jesus revealed...

2. Love: God talked with Israel in romantic love.  In the book of Hosea, God sees himself as husband to an unfaithful Israel that he will woo back through sacrificial acts of love.  The Greek Scriptures tell us that God demonstrated his love for us in this: Christ (Jesus) died for sinners.  Jake loved people in a way that cost him.  He lived frugally and literally, everything he had materally, was open to be used for others in need.  Some people stole from him, misunderstood his generosity, and took advantage of him,  He understood that and was never angry or bitter because the purpose of the actions was not appreciation, but the demonstration of a God who is sacrificially geneorus to others, regardless of their ability to return the favor.  Jesus revealed...

3. Heal: God promised to "heal Israel".  There is a commitment to make Israel whole.  This is different than making Israel wealthy or preventing affliction, but it's a commitment to make them complete.  They would recognize that God has accepted them and that he deems them as both significant and secure.  Jake ministered to many with addictions, character flaws (writer included), illnesses, and injuries (physical, mental, and emotional).  He stood with so many on their journey toward wholeness.  The paths of thousands were guided by Jake at sometime or another.  Jesus revealed....

4.  Forgive:  God promised to "forgive all their sins".  This shifts the understanding of God from primarily that of Judge to that of redeemer.  This is ultimately revealed in Jesus who dies so that world may experience forgiveness.  Jake not only practiced forgiveness but understood his relationship with God as that of a relationship of grace.  It was because he was forgiven that he could forgive.  Once again, Jesus revealed...

All this to say, upon reflection, I recognize that the reason that I was so impacted by Jake is because he is probably the closest reflection of Jesus that I have ever known.  I know that Jake, like everyone else, was not perfect.  But I am so thankful for having known him and thankful for his huge impact and influence in my life and outlook.

We worshipped Jesus at Jake's memoral services, and it was totally appropriate in light of his life. 

Afterall, when Jesus is revealed, the only appropriate response is worship.

God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Mask of Cultural Hatred

“People vote their identity, not issues.”

– Cecile Andrews in Living Room Revolution

"People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all."

--Richard Cohen, Washington Post Columnist, 11/12/13

This morning, my twitter feed was buzzing about the comments that Washington Post Columnist said in defense of claims that the Republican Party is racist.  His statements, on behalf of those whom he considers culturally conservative, was full of racist assumptions and perspective.  I choose to believe that his comments, do not represent the beliefs of most Americans who identify themselves as culturally and politically conservative.  I do not want to make the same mistake that has been made over and over again of making a polarizing figure a representative of an entire group of people.  

However, I am intrigued by his use of words as a defense of being called racist.  "Conventional" means to conform or adhere to acceptable standards or generally agreed upon codes of conduct.  Mr. Cohen begins his statement by attempting to speak on behalf of a culture.  After all, isnt culture simply often unspoken assumptions of roles, relationships, and responsibilities?  He assumes that those who know the appropriate standards are sickened by the thought of a white man and a black woman having children who fascinatingly enough, end up being biracial.  In order to push his point further, he has to mention that the mayor-elect wife has had same sex relationships in the past.  Surely, that solidifies his point that conventional viewers should be outraged.  

What Mr. Cohen misses is that his language is betraying his character, and may I be bold enough to say, his hatred.  Dehumanization begins with objectifying others.  He is not critical of the mayor-elect and his wife because of what they are doing (policy wise) but because of what he perceives they are.  Thats where the ugly head of racism raises its head!  When we begin to think of others as less because of the color of their skin or ethnicity, we begin to dehumanize them and that justifies every type of violence and degardation.  He brings up his wife because she is black.  He mentions her history because of the connotations he feels towards lesbians.  It is easier to hate, easier to destroy, and most of all, easiest to feel justified in doing that.

Lets take some time to evaluate the words that are being said and speak against the language and rehetoric that masks hatred that is expressed in every type of -ism out there.  Noting that our political activity has more to do with our understanding of who we are than the issues that are present.

Love to hear your thoughts,

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The First Step in Honoring Our Mothers

Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12 NLT)

"Why is it so much easier to identify and name racial and religious hatred than misogyny?"
Kristina Lucelle-Peterson in Liberating Tradition

Every year, we take time to honor Motherhood and the people who have mothered us through the celebration of Mother's Day. Of all of the traditional secular (and I am hesitant to use that description as Motherhood is truly sacred!) holidays, I believe that Mother's Day is the holiday in which is most needed and most desecrated.  The holiday is currently a consumer bonanza, both in the retail industry, and the church (People are more likely to attend church services on Mother's Day, along with Easter and Christmas).  We buy flowers, candies, expensive dinners, have BBQ's, pamper our mothers with spa treatments, or maybe even travel with them to an exotic locale.  All of those things are wonderful and largely appreciated by mothers who have literally given everything to form and foster us.

What occurs to me this morning is not whether you purchased the right gift, or gave the right card, or whether you are experiencing the tension of cultural consumer pressure to get "something".  That is all superficial.  Not that these are not appreciated and desired by our Mothers, but that they are shallow, token expressions.  Our true measure of honoring mothers, is our esteem for them and our value of them as a gift of God and person made in God's image who is not defined by our images and limitations towards women, but by the greatness of God.

I know, you may be saying: "Mike, I think that you are making too much of this.  Its just a holiday!"  However, I realize that as a man, writing about the treatment of women, that I have consciously and unconsciously participated in the dehumanization of women and its hideous and disasterous consequences.  Now, that may seem strong as I loved my mother and I think she would characterize my affection towards her always respectful and always supportive.  Yet, our society, as a whole promotes the objectification of women where they are reduced to sexual objects of desire, to be used by men (and other women) and their success and status is not based upon the giftedness that God has endowed spiritually and intellectually but their success in fulfilling the roles of objectification that we have promoted for women.

Men may read this and say, I never saw my mother as a "sexual object".  My response is that none of us did, but we have all seen other people's mothers in that way through the constant media portrayals, over-sexualized TV and movie demonstrations, and the ever present pornography industry (which made more money than Baseball, Football, Basketball, and Hockey put together: what are men really watching?).

“The reduction of a female human being's value to her sexual attractiveness comes at a terrifically high price: dehumanization, which makes probable all manner of violence. Over and over again, in history we observe that once a group has been dehumanized, anything can be done against them with impunity.
– Kristina Lacelle-Peterson in Liberating Tradition

Many people will say that women willingly take roles of being overly sexualized and participate in these things by their own choice.  This is always the argument that seems to alleviate the consciousness of those who are thriving off of the degradation of others.  WEB Dubois, in his classic "Souls of Black Folk",  spoke about the ability of the Negro to see himself through the eyes of those who hated him and controlled him.  It was a double-conscience.  What we now see is the internalization of misogynystic portraits of feminity that has been promoted through our male-powered cultures.

Yes, as a man, when I watch, support, encourage, or endorse something that celebrates violence against women, objectification of women, or the humiliation of women, I am teaching it to my daughter, projecting it upon my wife, and promoting it as a society.

So, the first step in truly honoring Mothers, is to simply stop dishonoring mothers.  Lets stop participating in systems, products, and practices that degrade and dehumanize women.  Lets stop allowing consumerism to dictate the identity of women and what is beautiful.  Lets repent of all of the misogynystic values that we have coveted and are still derriving pleasure from.  

Lets honor mothers by removing every obstacle that seeks to minimize, ignore, and marginalize women of all shapes, colors, political perspectives, and ideologies.  Let that start with your mother, your daughters, your neighbors, your community, and it will spread organically to our nation.

Lets honor mothers by standing in solidarity with mothers against those things that seeks to destroy them or objectify them: Pornography, violence, and discrimination of every sort.  Martin Luther King Jr. stated that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justic everywhere".   To do this assumes the painful reality that you, male or female, may have to accept your collusion with destructive powers

Its time that we actually celebrate a Mother's Day that truly honor's mothers and that begins by challenging our own assumptions on maternity, femininty, and equality.

Have a Great Mother's Day!

Pastor M Traylor

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Church and the Experience of Evil

"Maybe the deepest tragedy of the Rwandan genocide is that Christianity didn't seem to make any difference"

"It's too easy for Christianity to have no consequence in our world."
 ~Emmanuel Katongole and Jonathan Hartgrove-Wilson in Mirror to the Church

When the foundations are being destroyed,cwhat can the righteous do?
Psalm 11:3

I have been reflecting on the dynamic between God and evil.  Specifically, the extension of God into this world: The Church and the manifestation of evil called suffering.  The question that continually comes into my mind in multiple different varieties is "Does the Authentic Church have redemptive influence on the world and its evil?".  Or sometimes I ask "just how much light is required to dispel darkness?"

I have struggled with these thoughts for many years as I thought about the Civil rights movement of the United States and although it had a wide variety of self-identified Christians as its adherents, it had many many more who opposed it. I think about it as I see the American faith community become co-oped by diverse political and economic forces as opposed to being a prophetic influence that seeks to usher  in the reality of God's will of human flourishing that Jesus himself calls the Kingdom of God.

Nine months ago, I traveled to Rwanda.  My few weeks there was one of my greatest seasons of learning.  Many of you know of the horrific genocide that culminated in 1994 with over 1 million people being brutally killed and maimed in 100 days.  Since that time, the people of Rwanda have sought grace, justice, and healing.  As I visited and saw tremendous acts of love and forgiveness, I could not help to ask with Rwandan Author Emmanuel Katongole, "Why didn't Christianity make a difference".  Why was Rwanda, which boasted as being 'the most Christian" of all African nations, unable to overcome the blood of hatred with the water of baptism?

The criticism is not just for Rwandan Churches, but for European Churches which used Christian teachings to divide and racialize the Rwandan society, as well as the American church which used its considerable resources and influence to prevent interventions in the massacre and promote isolation from the carnage.

One could argue, as those far away from Rwanda situation, that many of the Rwandan Christians were not really Christians at all, but just in name.  I think this is a cop-out that keeps us from critically reflecting upon what is wrong with the church of Rwanda, and the church within the US.

I believe that the answer is found not in analyzing the sincerity of the Rwandan and Western Church's faith, but interrogating its assumptions regarding identity and purpose.  I am suggesting several different models of Church that often have great intentions  and positive effects, but are impotent against the systemic realities of evil and suffering.

1. The Pious Church: The Pious church sees itself as a group of Godly individuals who seek to help other individuals have a relationship with Jesus.  The Pious Church seeks an evangelistic scorecard where the most important thing is how many people have developed a relationship with Jesus.  The context of their lives, their pains and sufferings are not addressed as these things are promised in the afterlife.  The Pious Church is interested in having people enter the Kingdom, but is intimidated to usher it in.

2. The Pastoral Church: The pastoral church is a person-centered community that seeks to give compassion and comfort to the suffering.  It provides for the needs of those in misfortune and suffering, but rarely has the courage to ask why or how they got there in the first place.  The Pastoral church feeds the hungry but never challenges the hunger.  It grieves with the victim but never stands against violence.  The Pastoral church is kind and compassionate but rarely courageous.

3. The Prosperity Church: The Prosperity church is a wealth-centered community that uses faith as a means to justify its own greed and lack of compassion (yup, I said it, go ahead read it again).  The prosperity church proclaim "blessings" and announces the "divine favor of God" upon its constituents and uses its resources to support its own programs as well as lavish lifestyles for its leaders.  The prosperity church rarely bothers to consider focusing on the most indigent communities except to exploit them for what few resources they have.

Each of these church models have sincere people of faith in them, but the consequences and ramifications of the faith expressed in these models is minimal when they are met with legitimate evil and suffering.

I believe that God is pointing out the ineptitude and impotence of these church models so that we have a hunger and a thirst to reclaim the patterns and ministry that Jesus initiated and invited his church to participate in:

The Proclaiming church: The Proclaiming church is focused on celebrating, demonstrating, and expressing the Kingdom of God as Jesus did.  It is not as concerned with defending the good news that the Kingdom of God is near (Mark 1:14) as it is with demonstrating it.  This demonstration or witness, is personal and public.  It focusing on individual righteousness and justice as well as community righteousness (right-relationships) and justice.  It is a sign as well as the reality of the presence of God whose love demands a response. It is identifying with the least in a way that is not simply charitable, but advocates for wholeness while standing in solidarity against systemic realities that often work to oppress, degrade, and persecute.  It is, in the word's of Brenda Salter-McNeil, the credible witness of God.

In the days when violence and evil literally rip the foundations out of our lives, we must ask ourselves whether we have learned from our recent past.  Will we dare to make a difference, or will we simply rehash the failures of the Pious, Pastoral, and Prosperity church?

I pray that you will be part of proclaiming movement of God that demonstrates the power and  presence of the Kingdom of God in a very tangible way!

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

Saturday, March 16, 2013

St. Patrick's Day Encouragement for Ministers

If I be worthy, I live for my God to teach the heathen, even though they may despise me
St. Patrick

Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." 
Luke 5:5

St. Patrick's day is an interesting phenomena.  It began as a sincere way to honor a medieval Christian Priest who helped to introduce Christianity to Ireland.  It was slowly reframed to be a opportunity to celebrate Irish nationalism and the influence of Irish heirs all over the world.  It is now devoid of its Christian roots and nearly desolate of its nationalistic impulses (unless you count making everything green and wearing shamrocks as expressions of Irish nationalism).

This is not an isolated process where something meant to increase our devotion to God is transformed into a self-centered celebration. This is the process of secularization that saw our primary life-motivation move from the promotion of God (natural law for many deists), to nation/regions, to promotion of self. Even our faith expressions are often self-centered instead of God-centered.

I wonder, how St. Patrick would feel about his name being associated with such drunkenness and irresponsibility.  After all, his ministry emphasis was exclusive devotion to God.

St. Patrick lived in the 4th century and was initially a slave in Ireland (He was from Britain, not Ireland).  It was upon his escape back home that he answered a call of God to preach the good news in Ireland.  Once he was there, he faced many hardships but persevered to have an amazingly fruitful.  Its that aspect of his life and ministry that I want to honor in this blog entry.

There are so many people in ministry who are tired, aggravated, and frustrated with the persistent adversity that they have faced or the lack of apparent fruitfulness.  If you are one of them, I hope that the idea that St. Patrick labored in obscurity for years in a time without media, rapid communication, marketing techniques, but was used of God in a powerful way empowers you.

Jesus had the following interaction with a tired and frustrated Siimon Peter, who would later be the leader of the Church:

He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." 

Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." 

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 
Luke 5:4-7

A couple of observations for the tired and frustrated:

1. Ministry is orchestrated through a connection with Jesus: Jesus would end up saying that "apart from me, you can do nothing"(John 15:5).  We often think its our own strategies, skills, innovation, and natural gifts that ensure our success.  That's why so many "successful" ministers have no problem in taking credit for their fruitfulness.  The ability to catch fish in the text above had nothing to do with Simon's fishing ability, acumen, or fishing techniques, but simply his obedience to Jesus.

2. Authentic communication with Jesus is the key to ministry in real time: So many times I have heard ministers say "Jesus told me" or "The Holy Spirit spoke" when in actuality it was their own desires (often sincere) for ministry.  Ministers of the gospel need to be deeply immersed in Scripture, prayer, and submitted in accountable Godly relationships in order to accurately "hear from God".  God delights in communicating with his ministers (Amos 3:7).  He told the prophet Jeremiah: "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know."(Jeremiah 33:3)

2. Sometimes, you do not feel like persisting, but the blessing is in the obedience:  Simon said "but because you said so".  Sometimes, ministry does not feel intuitive or even encouraging, but we need to respond with our own "because you said so" and depend on the Holy Spirit for the results.  Almost everyone who God has used greatly has felt like quitting.

I pray on this St. Patrick day that you will be encouraged and that you will refocus on ministry by doing what St. Patrick did, focusing on Christ.

I pray, with St. Patrick.

May the Strength of God guide us.
May the Power of God preserve us.
May the Wisdom of God instruct us.
May the Hand of God protect us.
May the Way of God direct us.
May the Shield of God defend us.
May the Angels of God guard us.
- Against the snares of the evil one.

May Christ be with us!
May Christ be before us!
May Christ be in us,
Christ be over all!

God bless you all!

Pastor M Traylor

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lenten Prayer

Discipline without desire causes drudgery

"Don't handle! Don't taste! Don't touch!"? 22 Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. 23 These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person's evil desires.
Colossians 2:21-23

Lenten season begins today and is the 6 week period of time celebrated on the traditional Christian calendar prior to Easter.  The purpose of the season is further consecration and dedication towards Jesus Christ.  In order to do that, there was often a temporary cessation of certain pre-selected activities that were understood to interfere with the consecration process.  In the medieval world, this was most often fasting from meat as meat was seen as a luxury and it was felt that luxurious indulgences interfered with the soul's ability to connect with God.

Fast forward to our contemporary arena, where the build up towards the Lenten season gets more emphasis than Lent itself.  The celebrations leading up to "Fat Tuesday" (the day before Ash Wednesday which initiates the Lenten season) has far more attention in the media and with our marketers than Lent will ever have.  Mardi Gras were concocted as one last indulgence in pleasurable activities that would be set aside during the Lenten season.  As you know, it has snowballed into a license for overindulgence in every activities that can even remotely bring pleasure.  There is no connection with any idea of consecration, meditation, or the sacrifice of Jesus.

I often hear people who have no faith background say that they are "giving up" something for lent.  There is nothing wrong with that at all, but the purpose of lent was not simply to build or establish personal discipline, but to participate in spiritual disciplines in order to experience Jesus and grow a deeper appreciation for his life, death, and resurrection.

I want to make a few quick observations that I hope will help you during this Lenten season:

1. Discipline without a deeper desire to know God benefits you little.  While there is physical, emotional, and even social benefits from fasting, particularly if within a group, it benefits you very little and is difficult to sustain unless it is tied to a goal that is bigger than yourself (I Tim 4:8).   Believe it or not, the true reason for fasting is to enhance your relationship with God through eliminating practices, mindsets, and possessions that hinder its intimacy.

2. Pleasure without purpose robs you of joy and respect.  God is not anti-pleasure but He recognizes that pleasure is a cheap substitute for joy.  Seeking pleasure for the sake of pleasure often leaves us feeling empty.  Its interesting that pleasure never actually fulfills its promise, but always leaves us looking for a more complete type of pleasure. This is the cycle that we see in addiction.  In the book of Ecclesiastes, the author states that he refused himself nothing that was pleasurable but still found that "everything was meaningless".(Ecc 2:10-11).

3. Lent is a time for self-inventory:  Where is your relationship with God going?  Are you growing deeper or distant?  Do you have an appreciation for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in a way that influences and affects every realm of your life?  Lent is a time in which we can do an honest self-assessment and rededicate ourselves to growing closer to God.

4. Lent is a time for soul detox!:  We build up habits or relationships that keep us from experiencing the presence and power of God continually.  We actually need to set aside time for a regular detox.  Maybe its what we watch on TV, a relationship or the priority of an activity has come in the way of the time and energy that we would normally devote to God.  If you recognize that, then you will know what needs to be avoided during your Lenten celebration.

This Lenten season I:

pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:18-19)

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor