A Word on Self-Denial and Fasting

With the start of Lent this week, here are a few quick thoughts on self-denial and fasting.

Like almost any discipline, fasting and self-denial can be misused in various ways.[1]  They can be done without discernment or wisdom, such as fasting from food when you’re not physically healthy. They can be done merely out of ritual and without meaning. They can be viewed legalistically where we use our performance to get something we want from God. All good things are prone to misunderstanding and misuse. Our hope in this guide is that any self-denial through fasting is done meaningfully, purposely, wisely, and graciously.

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What is Lent?

“Each year the season of Lent asks us to embrace a spiritual gravity, a downward movement of soul, a turning from our soul-sufficiency and sinfulness. In such quiet turning, we are humbled and thus made ready to receive from God a fresh and joyous grace.” Bobby Gross[1]

Lent, not to be confused with lint (that fluffy stuff in your dryer vent or jean pockets), is a season within the Church calendar preparing our hearts for Easter. Similar to how Advent each December allows us to meditate on the incarnation leading up to Christmas Day, Lent gives us six weeks to consider Christ’s humility in the wilderness temptation and his human trials as we move towards Good Friday and Easter. During this season, the Christian follows Jesus by pursuing humility in our own life, believing he must come before us. As John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

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Lent Reading & Fasting Guide

“Lent invites us into practices where the Gospel is felt in our bodies—in hunger, in longings that go unsatisfied, in wants deferred. And these aren’t just “intellectual” realizations. My growling belly has stories to tell me about who I am and who I’m made for.” James K.A. Smith

Next Wednesday, the season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. This time in the Church Calendar carries us to Easter and the Passion Week. Our church has provided a Daily Reading and Weekly Fasting Guide. The daily reading plan focuses on Easter, and then during Passion Week it shifts to the events of Christ’s life from the Gospels.

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Lent and Living as Stewards

This past Sunday, Pastor Mark continued our All In series on stewardship. The focus this week: time. While none of us probably look forward to the conviction accompanying a sermon on how we use our time, it’s a necessary exhortation that actually frees up to focus on the things that matter most in our short lives.

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Lent: History, Cautions, and Benefits

For those groups—and there are a lot of them in Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism—that hold to a liturgical calendar and its celebrated seasons and days, Lent begins the pilgrimage to Jesus’ cross and resurrection. For most in the West, the season begins with Ash Wednesday and takes place over the next 40 days (Sundays excluded). Can Lent be abused or misused? Yes, of course. Can Lent be observed in a helpful way? I think so. It’s certainly not prescribed in the Bible so we shouldn’t see it as a God-ordained means of grace or as required for Christians, but at the same time, if done in the right way it might be a helpful teaching opportunity that prepares our hearts to feast on the Bread of Life, Jesus. Here’s a very brief explanation as to what Lent is, what is dangerous about it, and what might be helpful about it.

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