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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

Speaking of Jesus: The Truth of the Matter!

When you talk about Jesus, how do you present him? Do you talk about Jesus in terms of how helpful he is for life? Do you present Jesus as a great teacher of timeless truths? Or, do you talk about Jesus as a man who lived in Galilee 2000 years ago and died on a cross and actually rose again on the three days later? Perhaps we could word the question this way: When talking about Jesus to our friends, do we present the story of Jesus as helpful OR do we present it as true?

Now, you might be saying to yourself: why does it have to be one or the other? Can't Jesus be both helpful for my life and the truly resurrected God-man? Of course. But when we talk about Jesus, we must keep in mind that if we don't present the account of his life, death, and resurrection as true, then we will help no one and ultimately withhold the good news of Jesus Christ.

It is worth noting that in the New Testament, when the gospel is being presented, Jesus is never talked about in terms of what he can do for us. Rather, he is always talked about as the crucified and risen Lord. The four gospels are all accounts of what he actually did to save sinners. The book of Acts is full of sermons and presentations of the gospel message by the apostles which proclaim the death of Christ for sin and the resurrection of Christ for our justification. Saint Paul goes so far as to say this, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith...And if Christ has not been raised then your faith is futile; you are still in your sins...If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men" (I Corinthians 15:14, 16, 17). In other words, if it is not true that Christ lived, died and rose, then this whole faith is a sham and we have been woefully misled.

But, Paul says, this is not the case, "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead..." (I Corinthians 15:2). This is our hope and our salvation. Only from this core truth can we begin to discuss the results and benefits of faith in Christ and having him watch over us. We must always start with who Christ is and what he has done for us on the cross and from the empty tomb, because if those things aren't true then anything else we say holds no weight. If Jesus did not rise, he cannot save anyone nor be helpful for anything in life because he is still dead. And dead people are never helpful. But, if Jesus is risen, then he is all the help we need and the sure hope we have. As we talk about Christ with our friends, let us deal with the truth of Christ's resurrection before we get to the benefits of faith in Christ.

Pastor Bob


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