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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fasting for Lent

What are you giving up this year for Lent? One of the traditions that many people in the Christian church have maintained for hundreds of years is the practice of giving up something for Lent. It is called the "Lenten fast." In the Roman Catholic church they have fish fries on Fridays during Lent because they often call for abstinence from eating meat products these forty days. A lot of people give up things like TV, chocolate, or caffeine. Some people will take days of fasting. When I was in college I gave up all forms of caffeine cold turkey. Doctors say that this usually leads to a headache for three days. This is not true. I had a headache for seven days straight!

All of this "giving up" of things is to point us towards Christ, who gave up his life for us on the cross, and to prepare us for the glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday. Every time you have a desire or a craving for that thing you give up, you think of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. And then, on Easter Sunday you can add to your celebration of Christ's resurrection by making a Starbucks run for your friends who gave up caffeine. I think that this is a good practice for us who so typically operate in the opposite way. We are not used to giving things up, rather, we get for ourselves everything we want.

As we have been going through the Gospel of Mark (as I type this we are in the section of discipleship which begins in Mark 8:22 and goes through Mark 10:52) we find that giving things up is not merely a Lenten ritual we go through once a year. Rather, the call to follow Christ demands that we not only give up our comfort foods or lattes for forty days, but that we give up our lives altogether. Jesus says that we are to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow after him (Mark 8:34). He says, "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it" (Mark 8:35). We must learn to give up our worldly comforts and idols and find our lives only in Christ.

We cannot, and will not, do this on our own. The reason we have to die to ourselves is that we are sinners. And sinners don't follow Jesus, they serve themselves. Remarkably, Jesus, in obedience to the Father, does something quite different. He serves sinners by dying for their selves! Jesus gives up his life, he denies himself, takes up his cross and dies. And in giving up his life, he saves our lives. He doesn't lose his life for the sake of the gospel, the giving up of his life is the gospel that saves us!

This Lenten season as we follow Christ to his cross in Mark's gospel, it is my prayer that we not only learn what it means to give up our lives to serve Christ, but more importantly, that we learn what it means for Christ to give up his life to serve us. So, stay strong during your Lenten fast, but more importantly, know that Christ stayed the course to the cross for you to give you everlasting life. That is the glory we will celebrate come Easter morning!

Pastor Bob

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