Making Sense of Lent

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

ashes on woman's forehead
I grew up in an Assemblies of God Pastor's home in a small mountain town in Northern California. I am a 3rd-generation Pentecostal and am currently on staff at a nondenominational church in Texas. I remember the days of the Charismatic Renewal in the 70's and the impact it had on my community, especially on my dad's church and the Catholic Church just a few blocks down the street from us. I have some understanding of the Catholic Catechism and did study Church History in college, but I don't claim to be any kind of expert on the subject. My wife and I are friends with a couple who converted to Catholicism from an Assemblies of God upbringing. We have had many conversations that have deeply challenged my thinking in some areas of my faith. I say all that to give you some perspective on my thinking. Let me say that I in no way think the practice of Lent is wrong. In fact, I think Lent is a powerful way to bring us to a deeper relationship with Christ if it is celebrated from the heart.

The main reason I don't practice Lent is simply because I am not one for liturgy. I wasn't raised in the liturgy and I just don't feel comfortable under that structure. I don't believe that liturgical worship is wrong and that non-liturgical is right. Both lead us to Jesus Christ and that is what is first and foremost. It is just a matter of personal preference or style. The minute I accuse my liturgical friends of just being religious is the minute I accuse myself because I can be just as religious in being non-liturgical.

Here's my problem with Lent, or I should say, its public portrayal. My problem is not with Lent itself, but with Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) that ushers in the 40-day season of Lent. I have never felt good about how millions around the world prepare for Lent by such a public display of open debauchery. Please understand I am not saying that everyone who observes Lent is wrong. I am focusing on what I believe is the struggle of our culture to make sense of our faith in light of this subject. The message the world is receiving is that you can live like you want (Fat Tuesday) as long as you do your yearly religious requirement (Lent). This doesn't make sense to the world. Why should they become like us when in their eyes, we are no different than they are? Even more damaging is the message we are sending that sin is okay as long as you fulfill your religious duty. No wonder this generation is confused and skeptical of us.

I am not advocating that we do away with Lent. What I am suggesting is that if you live a life of repentance and holiness before God all year long, then Lent has real meaning and sends a powerful testimony to the world about the truth of God's amazing grace. If you don't then Lent becomes nothing more than a religious ritual. Part of the meaning of Lent is to help us trace the steps of Jesus as he spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness. One thing we don't see Jesus doing is getting drunk and partying like there's no tomorrow before he started his fast. His experience in the wilderness was an extension of a lifestyle that he lived daily.

The world needs to see that the faith we profess has power every day of the year, not just during Lent. They are looking for something to make sense of life everyday. They want to know that it is not only real, but that it is eternal. Let's make Lent something that testifies publicly of a way of life that is lived privately. That's the way Jesus lived and it changed the world.
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