To Lent… Or Not To Lent?

The supermarket Peeps are out. This can only mean one thing: on to the next religious/commercial season!

In about a week, Catholics and some Christians will observe Ash Wednesday and begin the season of Lent, a time of remembering the wilderness journey of Jesus and His ultimate sacrifice for us. Much like Advent, Lent is a season of preparation and waiting.

So begins the annual debate amongst Protestants and evangelicals, “to Lent… or not to Lent?” We have a funny relationship with this season… trying to strike a proper balance between the secular and the holy is no small task. Some will go out of their way to not celebrate Lent, calling it a return to the ritualistic stuff the Reformation did away with. “Fish on Fridays!” was a strict observance of my Presbyterian church when I was a kid. Did you know McDonalds’ Filet-O-Fish sandwiches were created to keep Catholic customers happy during Lent? And that the entire Swiss Reformation was kicked off by a couple of priests who decided they wanted some delicious sausages on a Friday during Lent? It was actually called the “Affair of The Sausages” and it’s as entertaining as it sounds.

I came across two images about Lent that sum up this whole debate: The first, a Catholic priest telling us that the purpose of life ain’t about being happy kids… but the purpose of life is to attain perfect life. Or something. I’m not sure actually. In the comments section this guy actually told a new convert to try their “Holy40” program because if you start off too severe at the beginning, you may not make it. The ‘Holy40’ has a nice ring to it I suppose, sounds a bit like the Christian version of chart-topping hits. Regardless, this guy isn’t messing around. You must ‘develop’ a good Lent he says… behave yourself… use the program if you know what’s good for you.

The next picture is one of a lovely affirmation done in the oh so popular new marker script that has taken over our Instagram feeds. This sweet girl promises us that free Lenten printable are coming soon to her shop… (!!!) but that she is actually dreading the approach of the season. She goes on to give a tortured but honest explanation of how if we just ‘do the work’ we too can be transformed by the glory of Easter.


So enters all kinds of confusion about fasting, rituals, personal choice, and spiritual growth. Fat Tuesday binge drinking is followed by somber Ash Wednesday piety. We bask in the work of the cross but work our tails off to feel worthy of it. It is all very odd. Something I’ve noticed about this season, especially in the more evangelical circles, is our affinity for the “40 Day” cycle. Much like Advent in December where we count down the days to the arrival, the “40 day road to Easter” gives us a chance to reflect, wait and hopefully draw nearer to Jesus.

Here’s the hook: 40 days has huge Biblical significance and can be a meaningful time for us. It can also be just another checklist exercise in futility. Here are just a few real-life book examples of the 40-day obsession that got me wondering if maybe we’ve gone off the rails just a little bit:

40 Days to a More Generous Life, 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed, 40 Days of Decrease, 40 Days of Biblical Declarations, 40 Days to Lasting Change, 40 Day Soul Fast, The 40 Day Prayer Challenge, and my favorite, 40 Days to a Joyful Motherhood… sign me up for that one.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of what’s offered to us. Some of these books or studies can be beneficial, some I know are not. We just love hitching our wagons to anything with a scheduled outcome though, don’t we?

I think we can all benefit from heartfelt reflection as we lead up to Easter. I personally am not giving up any coffee or wine, but I am picking up God’s Word. I like to focus on the Gospels, the story as it is told to us, Jesus as He is represented, as He IS. We have an old book of paintings that tells story of the Passion of Christ, it’s simple, but there’s nothing boring about it. It has the Bible verses at the bottom of each page. It doesn’t offer any new strategies or foolproof charts, it just tells the greatest story ever told. Charts and strategies comfort us, but time will prove they are a trap. Even the most spirit-filled, Biblically sound Jesus-lover has to watch out, for it sneaks through the back door of our minds and before we realize, we are trying to formulate ourselves out of our problems. It’s the gospel of self-sufficiency, self-reliance and just all -around self. It’s why these books sell so well. There must be some little trick, if we can just figure out the key, we’ll have it all figured out. By our selves.

Contrary to popular thought, we actually are called to humble ourselves and take up our cross daily (Matthew 16:24). Notice the word “daily”. Not just during Lent or Advent. I think most of us could spend 40 days just on that idea alone. We sacrifice daily. We crucify our flesh daily. We humble ourselves daily. The last thing any of us need is something to make us feel more inferior. Things may go awry during your 40 days of this or that… it’s ok. It’s not about finding perfection, it’s about finding Jesus, and ourselves within Him.

The point of this coming season is that Jesus took our place and gave us life from death. Ash Wednesday gives way to Resurrection Sunday. I agree with the old Reformers that we don’t need a calendar or holiday to begin or end anything with Jesus, He’s ever-present and doesn’t change. We don’t have seasons of obedience or sacrifice, any more than we have seasons of gluttony or sin. We have our daily bread, our uninterrupted abiding and communion with Jesus.

I do love this time of year and the chance to pause and reflect. I don’t mind Lent as long as it leads away from myself and towards God. But we mourn no longer. We are no longer slaves to sin or self. Ask Him what He would have for you during this time. Let Him decide what your 40 days will look like and I guarantee it’ll be better than any study book you could every buy.

What do you do (or not do) for this season?

Easter Off The Page

When I was a teenager, my friends and I took part in our city’s production of the Passion Play during Easter week. We practiced for months for the week long performances in which we were part of the crowd that both welcomed and condemned Jesus. We began by waving palm branches and finished with the shaking of our fists. We stood at the foot of the cross during the crucifixion scene and slowly changed our mockery to grieving as we realized just who this Jesus was. As the theatrical lightning and thunder were set off and the temple curtain split, our role was to run down the aisle and out in sheer terror. We would get to the back of the auditorium and collapse in the lobby. Barefoot, in our little ‘Jerusalem frocks’ as we called them, we would just sit and watch the rest of the last scene play out – and that’s when my favorite part of the whole night would come to pass.

You see, the man who played Peter was my favorite. He had a way with this role. He was a rather large African-American youth pastor with a voice that just commanded attention. He was also one of the most gentle souls I had ever met. His role as Peter consisted in being by Jesus’ side, falling asleep in the garden, and denying his Savior three times. He ran out in utter shame before the crucifixion, but Peters role was not finished yet.

As the women arrived at the empty tomb, there was an incredible message waiting for them via a “young man clothed in a long white robe”. (Can we just pause for a moment and recognize how amazing this in itself is?)

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples – and Peter – that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” Mark 16:6-7

Did you catch that? “And Peter…”

This always fascinated me. He singles Peter out, even though he is certainly one of the disciples. The one who ran out in shame is being called back. By God Himself. By name.

As the women ran from the tomb to go and tell the fearful disciples the news, our Peter would stand in the back of the auditorium pacing and wringing his hands. Every night. He would pray and weep as he prepared himself for the grand finish, and we would sit on the floor weeping with him because we knew what was coming.

As the music changed from slow and mournful to faster and louder, our Peter took his place at the back entrance. Like a bride waiting to make her entrance, he stood in the door wiping his eyes praying out loud for the Holy Spirit to fall. Hundreds of people were about to hear the greatest possible news.

The music paused, and he tore up the aisle like a kid on Christmas morning, screaming “He’s alive! He’s alive!” I still remember the sight of hundreds of people simultaneously jerking their heads to see this unexpected sight. Our Peter never fully got out the words without crying. I never once watched it without weeping with joy. People in the audience would jump to their feet with hands held high. The story we all had heard countless times was jumping off the page right into our hearts.

I miss those days when Easter comes around. I long for people to get that excited about the story. I cried yesterday telling my boys this story because it’s still that fresh in my memory. We are all Peter. We fall asleep, deny, and run. How amazing that Jesus calls us back by name and invites us back to the table He has prepared.

Easter is so much more than wearing our best outfits to a lovely Easter service. I hope your Easter is far more than just “nice”… I hope it leaps off the pages and becomes a truth you carry all year long.

Happy Easter peeps!! ūüź£ He is Risen!

(For more amazing reading on Peters restoration, check out when Jesus returns and asks him three very important questions in John 21)

First World Easter

Easter week. Holy Week. My favorite holiday and my favorite celebration. In the same way we observe advent, I think the time before Easter deserves our attention and willingness to quiet ourselves to hear with clear minds the story that changed everything. Our lives are not very conducive to this message, however, and the gospel gets lost in our hustle. As much as we may try, we won’t find any answers in our good works or our poetic brokenness… the answers are at the cross. Easter week is a week to remember those truths.

“The reality is that if we are seeking a better life for ourselves by helping others, if we are seeking to perfect ourselves by helping others, if we are seeking an aesthetically pleasing, pretty, romantic life and happiness by the brief emotional espresso shots/pat on the back sensation of helping others alone, we will never, ever be satisfied. If we are claiming to find perfection and happiness in our own brokenness and sin, we will definitely never be happy. Why? Because our first purpose is not inward, but rather it is to glorify God.

If we are getting our scripture and God’s holy infallible word from the Instagram Bible¬†alone, if we are depending on aesthetically pleasing and pretty motivational blurbs with vague and fluffy words to push us through our first world lives and problems, we are not really looking for a relationship with God. We are looking to feel okay with where we are at. We are looking inward for emotional fulfillment. We are looking for our own idea of perfection.

It is good to help people. It is good to love life. It is good to love the beautiful and good. But this should all be the fruit of seeking to glorify God and follow His Will first. And quite honestly, as someone who tried to find the aesthetic, emotional, Instagram life, I don’t want that kind of first world, lavender lotion, piano riff, and local coffee someone-give-me-motivation-to-do-my-laundry-and-homework-oh-life-is-so-hard Jesus. I want the almighty King of Heaven whose bloody, painful, violent death saved me from the depths of the fiery and damning hell where I deserved to go (and still deserve to go, except for His mercy). I want to glorify and sing the praises of the God who gave Paul and Silas the strength to sing loud, fierce praises at the bottom of a filthy, nasty-smelling prison cell with their legs jammed into stocks for the entire night. I want the Lord and Savior whose astounding grace motivated Ignatius of Antioch to suffer through being dragged three thousand miles with ten abusive Roman soldiers to Nero’s Colosseum to be eaten alive by tortured lions in front of a jeering unsaved crowd and to write that he longed for eternity. These are true instances of brokenness, but instead of letting these situations break them and then holding on to their brokenness and saying “Oh! Look what I’m doing for Jesus!”, these men set their eyes on Christ and sought to glorify God and not themselves and certainly not their lives.

Faith is not pretty, and neither is life. Making it pretty by embracing our sin and the effects of sin around us and photoshopping it will not help us, either. Trying to find satisfaction through charitable acts will not help us either, if we are not seeking and embracing Christ and His Word first. For we do not find Christ in our brokenness. We find Christ in His Word and through there, realize our brokenness and the horror of it and seek repentance and sanctification. We are to rejoice in our suffering, as Paul calls us in Romans 5:3 and 4, but because of our hope in the glory of God. We are not called to revel in our problems and look for emotional nirvana. We are to look upward. ” ¬†Rachel Stevenson

Look up friends, not in. Acknowledge the unfinished things, but rejoice in a Savior that died on a cross and announced once and for all that “IT IS FINISHED.”

Help people. Do the good works, but find your strength in the cross. That’s where all the power and joy are found… not in striving to impress. He died so we may live life and live it abundantly.

The cross wasn’t cheap or smooth, it was costly and rugged. It’s easy to forget that with our Pottery Barn table settings and easy coffee shop culture. I hope we can be reminded of it all this week, the brutal beauty of the whole story.

Be blessed this Easter friends, cling to the old rugged cross and the great hope it brings to our old rugged lives.

Searching For Spring – And Finding It

March is a funny month, in like a lion, out like a lamb and all that… we here in Colorado enjoy warm days and blizzards all in one weekend at times. I’m a seasonal girl, I love the flow of one season to the next, and I get as excited for fall as I do for summer. Winter is harder though, once Christmas passes I kind of lose my mojo. The rhythm feels a little off, there isn’t much to be excited about when the sun sets at 5:30. March brings a little change though, something is on the horizon: Target puts out their cheery spring decor. Under all that sloppy snow some green shoots are beginning to poke out of the ground. My boys are getting restless with school and starting to talk about their summer plans. I’m aching to just make it to spring break vacation so my pale self can soak up some warm sun. March makes me start to search for springtime.

I was honored to get to review Christine Hoover’s new book¬†Searching For Spring because it addresses one of the very cries of my heart… how can we find beauty in the winter of our lives? Are we meant to just hunker down and pray for spring, or does God actually have something beautiful for us in the midst of our winter waiting? Using Ecclesiastes 3 as a backdrop, Christine takes us on a sensory journey through the seasons as God created them and reminds us that we can’t place all our hope in decaying things, but rather in a God who has promised to make all things new in their time.

Admittedly, I am not a fan of the popular Christian-ish idea that “life is messy and broken! embrace your big messy broken life!”¬†That little mantra covers real sin up as no big deal and makes a mockery of the redemption story. This book does a beautiful job of addressing the truth of our current brokenness while providing us with hope that there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel. It was refreshing to see the whole picture presented. Hoover does a beautiful job weaving together the truth that while we live in a broken world, we belong to a Savior that has promised to make all things beautiful, including our “inconsolable things” as she calls them, the things that simply will not be made whole in this lifetime.

I look out my window and see bare trees, dried up grass and the remnants of last summers raspberry patch. It looks just awful right now, but I don’t wake up lamenting the barrenness of it all because I know something is happening down in places I can’t see. In a few weeks I’ll be able to see tiny buds on the raspberry stalks. A rogue wildflower will pop up in the backyard. God wants us to recognize that drumbeat, that rhythm He has created in our lives as well. It’s hard sometimes to see any beauty in our long winters, but we must not believe it isn’t there. His creation knows it: there will soon be a nest on my front porch, the geese at our little pond will disappear for another year, the black bear in the ravine will poke his head out into the sun and start to roam. Because life continues on.

We need to¬†act in a way that honors God’s rhythms. “To everything there is a season” He tells us, but how often do we demand a perpetual spring or summer?

“Perhaps you’re waiting for something to be made beautiful. What can you do in the meantime? Give yourself to creative good. Give your life to love and serve in the ways you’ve been gifted. Draw your own perspective back to the small beauties of everyday life.” (page 196)

Just like nature renews itself through death and new life, so must we. Jesus never told us life would be a perpetual summer, in fact we are assured that sometimes there will be suffering. We don’t need to run from it, and we aren’t exactly supposed to embrace it either, we are to walk with Jesus where He leads. There’s a beautiful part of the book where Hoover talks about faith in the “minor keys” and how that rubs us the wrong way, because the minor keys aren’t natural, they call us to repent and lay down the selfish parts of ourselves. We like life to be in the major keys because it just feels right and good. She does a great job showing us how we need both, just like winter and summer.

“We’re made to be beauty seekers but too often we’re merely surviving. We are restless from a lack of wonder and sometimes we’re pierced by more than just restlessness; depression, anxiety, apathy, bitterness, and hopelessness. We exist in a crafted busyness where we attempt to silence our heart’s craving. What is the point of seeking beauty anyway? Why awaken our hearts to the risk of emotion when life’s pain is too deep?¬†

Because beauty is the most potent weapon we have with which to fight back.”

What a blessing and what a relief. Beauty amidst ugliness. Beauty in wintertime. Hope that our spring is coming and that Jesus has made and is continuing to make all things new.

Here’s a link for the book if you’d like to check it out, it was a huge blessing for me and has me getting out some of those Easter decorations already… enjoy friends!

40 Days of This or That

021516-ltd-home-1.jpgWalking though the grocery store yesterday, I felt a little spark of excitement that I experience every year around this time: I saw the jelly beans and little planters of tulips. I look forward to Easter season the way most people look forward to Christmas, and I know you aren’t supposed to admit this kind of thing, but Easter is actually my favorite holiday.

The days are slowly getting longer and brighter. Waking up at 6 am during the winter months is trying on the soul… but once the sun begins to make an appearance, I find I’m able to make my kids breakfast with a little more cheer. Oh, there’s still plenty of snow to be had and it’s still unbearably cold outside, but there are signs: little patches of green starting to appear under the snow, birds zipping all around the patio searching out a place to nest, and of course the grocery store Peeps.

Catholics will observe Ash Wednesday today and begin the season of Lent, a time of remembering the wilderness journey of Jesus and His ultimate sacrifice for us. Much like Advent, Lent is a season where we prepare, we long, we wait.  Some people fast. Some give up random things like chocolate or alcohol or caffeine.

We try and strike a balance between the secular and the holy. Yesterday was Fat Tuesday, a day of feasting before the inevitable Ash Wednesday day of mourning and sacrificing. Something I’ve noticed about this season, especially in the more evangelical circles is the affinity for the “40 Day” cycle. Much like Advent in December where we count down the days to the arrival, the 40 day road to Easter gives us a chance to reflect, wait and hopefully draw nearer to Jesus.

Here’s the hook: 40 days has huge Biblical significance and can be a meaningful time for us. It can, however, also be just another checklist exercise in futility.

Here are just a few examples that got me wondering if maybe we’ve gone off the rails just a little bit:

40 Days to a More Generous Life, 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed, 40 Days of Decrease, 40 Days of Biblical Declarations, 40 Days to Lasting Change, 40 Day Soul Fast, The 40 Day Prayer Challenge; Draw the Circle,¬†and my favorite,¬†40 Days to a Joyful Motherhood…¬†sign me up for that one.

I’m being sarcastic, but this is just the tip of the iceberg of what’s offered to us. Some of these books or studies can be beneficial, some I know are not. We seem to have a 40 day obsession.

I’m no different than the masses, I think we can all benefit from seasons of reflection as we lead up to Easter. I personally am not giving up any coffee or wine, but I am picking up God’s Word. This season I like to focus on the Gospels, the story as it is told to us, Jesus as He is represented, as He IS. We have an old book of paintings that tells story of the Passion of Christ, it’s simple, but there’s nothing really simple or boring about it. It has the Bible verses at the bottom of each page. I realize this isn’t very exciting, it doesn’t offer any new strategies or foolproof charts, it just points to Jesus and what He did. Charts and strategies comfort us though, but time will prove they are a trap. We all do it, it’s a coping mechanism and a comfort to have something to grab on to. We like when things fit, like a numbers equation with one answer. Even the most spirit-filled, Biblically sound Jesus-lover has to watch out for it, for it sneaks through via the back door of our minds and before we realize, it’s camped out in the living room. It’s the gospel of self-sufficiency, self-reliance and just all -around¬†self. We are really good at inserting our ‘self’ into the story, so much so that there isn’t room for Jesus. That’s why we are drawn to all these diversions, it’s why these books sell so well. There must be some little trick, if we can just figure out the key, we’ll have it all figured out. By our¬†selves.

At the end of these 40 days what do we expect? What if I read my little book or study and nothing really happens? If that’s the case, it wasn’t about Jesus to begin with. It was about self. There’s no shortage right now of self-help parading around as Jesus, but having none of His actual qualities. It’s a feel-good, dead-end circle. Our desire should be a consistent and ever-growing relationship with an ever-present Savior. One on one. Studies are good, people are even better… we just need to be discerning about which voices are the loudest in our minds.

Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are dust and to dust we will return (Ecclesiastes 3:10), it’s a solemn reminder, but I don’t mourn today. We don’t need to wait 40 days to celebrate a risen Savior. Reflect? Yes, as long as it leads you to the cross and not back to yourself. Contrary to popular thought, we actually are called to humble ourselves and take up our cross (Matthew 16:24). I think most of us could spend 40 days just on that idea alone. In a world that says we always must be on our A game, Jesus calls us over to the sidelines sometimes. The last thing any of us need is something to make us feel more inferior. If that’s how this season makes you feel, may I humbly suggest dumping everything and going to God’s Word with open hands and heart. I promise, He will respond. Better yet, HE promises He will respond, which is way better than my word. Things may go awry during your 40 days of this or that… it’s ok. It’s not about finding perfection, it’s about finding Jesus, and ourselves within Him.

The resurrection gave us our life back, it gives us hope and a reason to not sit in ashes any longer. Sometimes the worst messages come in the most beautiful packaging. In the same way, the most profound and life-changing truths can be found in the most plain places. The old Bible in the drawer. A heartfelt prayer in the middle of the night. Jesus is there. You don’t need a calendar or holiday to begin or end anything with Him, He’s ever-present and surprisingly flexible with us.

This is a beautiful season of renewal and reflection. Use it, enjoy it, and don’t get pressured into making it about performance or self-improvement. Jesus died and put all that to rest. We mourn no longer. Ask Him what He would has for you during this season. The fantastic thing is, it’s different for every one of us. Let Him decide what your 40 days will look like and I guarantee it’ll be better than any study book you could every buy.