A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to Becoming More like Christ
(A Charismatic Discovered Lent)

 The season of Lent begins this Wednesday. That's right. Lent with an e, not an i.

The only "lint" I experienced as a child was the stuff I had to clean out of the clothes dryer, and the pesky pet hair we'd have to brush off our "Sunday best" before heading to service. Having a menagerie of dogs and cats necessitated having a good lint brush around or at least a roll of duct tape.

I heard the other LENT was some sort of ceremony practiced by Catholics; I heard they put ashes on their foreheads and got really sorry for being bad...that some of them even gave up their favorite foods right before Easter in order to prove to God they were serious.

Our evangelical church never practiced Lent. When it was mentioned, it was usually criticized as Roman rubbish.

I recall being at a restaurant after the mid-week service when some of those people walked in with the smudge on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. We whispered in eerie tones, "They do that thing called "Lent." We tried to cover a snicker or two as we watched them --each with a distracting blob of dirt above the nose--eating and chatting away as if nothing was out of the ordinary.

God's sense of humor contains a stinging "gotcha!" that all of us need to watch out for when we take hearsay for facts, and judge others from inside our comfortable, but confining perceptions.

Last year, I was woefully stung at the Golden Corral following the Ash Wednesday service. A woman and her daughter brushed by while I was debating between a topping of cottage cheese or chicken salad. I heard the Mom whisper, "Quit staring. She's Catholic."

"What's a cat tick?" the little girl asked with anxiousness in her voice, as if the word had terrorist-like connotations.

"I'll tell you later," the mother replied.

Despite my chuckle, that's exactly what bothers me. What will she tell her child?

The same lies--excuse me, misrepresentations I heard at an early age? The same falsehoods that shaped my belief system for most of my Christian life? I acknowledge that most of the things I heard were spread by well-meaning, but misinformed believers who accepted without question what others had passed down through their denomination or particular church--their little place of Heaven.

But let's clear things up to prove my point.

I am NOT a Roman Catholic (nothing against them). I am a member of a conservative Anglican church. We are also a charismatic fellowship, which the mom probably never would have guessed. After all, how many Pentecostals get ashes rubbed on their foreheads at church?

Dancing in the aisles? Maybe. Ashes from last year's dried and burned Palm Sunday branches? Uh, no.

We're on a roll, so let's clear up a widely believed error right now:

There was no Roman Catholic Church until 1054 A.D., when trouble that had been festering for years finally split the Church into two expressions--the West (guided by Rome) and the Eastern Church (Constantinople--Orthodox).

Very few Christians today take time to chew on the glorious truth that there was only ONE church on earth for over a thousand years after the Day of Pentecost!

If a visitor arrived in Corinth, for example, he would ask, "Where does THE Church meet in your city?" Although assembling in different cities and homes (and later in buildings), it was ONE Church which adhered to the doctrine of Christ and His Apostles, guarded it against heresies from within and  from persecutions without, and worshiped in manifested unity.

All of us--Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant--owe a lot to St. Athanasius. His explanation and defense of the Trinity against divisive elements within the early Church helped clarify and ground the Trinitarian doctrine. Athanasius was also the first person to identify the same 27 books of the New Testament that other Church leaders later canonized (made official).

We learn from historical records that Athanasius--in 331 A.D.--was instructing the Church toward a forty-day period of introspection and repentance in order to properly prepare for Resurrection Sunday. It was inclusive of the already widely practiced and stricter fast during Holy Week (the week before Easter).

By 339 A.D., after having traveled to Rome and over the greater part of Europe, Athanasius wrote in the strongest terms to urge this observance to be universally practiced. And so it began...when EVERY Christian was catholic (little "c"--meaning a part of something universal)!

Really, aren't we all catholics (little c's)? I trust you believe you are a part of the seamless Body of Christ--past, present and future--in Heaven and on earth!

I agree there are important doctrines that define the true faith, such as the Trinity, the Incarnation of Christ (fully man and fully God), His bodily resurrection and physical return to earth. However, we must focus on our unity in Christ...not turning minor, non-salvific traditions into legalistic dogma that breeds suspicion and cripples our witness.

Now you know that Lent was not invented over in Rome to offend Protestants. Face it, if you were a believer living anywhere from 330.A.D. onward until the Reformation (1517), you observed the Lenten Season. That's a long time! But guess what? Protestants took the practice with them, too. Today, Anglicans, Episcopalians, and Lutherans observe the season of Lent, along with many Methodist denominations. Only the new kids on the church block have abandoned the observance!

Oops! Doesn't sound like these folks were "on the fringe" after all! Truthfully, they were smack dab in the center of Church practice from the beginning. Think about it. It had only been a little over three hundred years since Christ's Ascension.

Water is clearer at its source. The further it travels from its breakout point, the more sediment it carries. Sadly, so does the Church. I guess what I'm trying to say is the Lenten call to prepare ourselves to fully embrace the Cross was not far removed from the feet of the original Apostles and the men who sat at their feet.

Where does the word "lent" come from, and what does it mean?

The Latin word is Quadragesi for "fortieth day".

The season begins on Ash Wednesday and continues for forty days. Sundays are not counted because every Sunday is the Lord's Day and is celebrated as a joyous, spiritual feast. (or should be...Selah.)

Now, if you're an evangelical trodding through unknown territory in this article, then let me digress to give you a backdrop of information.

Not until I joined a liturgical/sacramental expression of Christ's Body did I realize that the Church follows its own calendar of worship, revolving around the life and work of Christ in seven seasons:

: the two comings of Christ (God keeps His promises)
Christmas: the Incarnation "God With Us"
Epiphany: the revealing of Christ to the Gentile Magi and His Baptism in the River Jordan
Lenten: repentance, forgiveness, and restoration available for all
Easter: Resurrection
Pentecost: the Holy Spirit
Kingdomtide: (also known as "Ordinary Time") growing in service and sanctification

Combined, these seasons teach the four doctrines of the Church:

The Incarnation
The Atonement
The Resurrection
The Holy Trinity

Oh, before we go any further, imagine my surprise when I also discovered the concept of such a calendar developed around 325 A.D!

It's intended to help us stay focused on the life and ministry of Christ as repeatedly, year after year, we move rhythmically through the seasons.

Kingdom truths are like exquisite diamonds with multiple facets. The closer we draw to the treasure, the more details we can behold. Moving around the diamond also gives us perspectives we could not see from a previous position. We are going "from glory to glory". The seven seasons of the Church Year, as the diamond, remain unchanged. However, WE are the ones changing!

People can become so familiar with their liturgy or order of service that it can sadly deteriorate into mimicry--a corporate "going through the motions"--whether it's standing to sing Hymn # 429 or getting ready to celebrate Jesus' Resurrection.

I visited a Lutheran Church one Sunday and sat beside a young lady. We exchanged pleasantries as the service began. I was still rather "new" to liturgy, but I could tell she had it all down pat. She knew when to make the sign of the Cross and kneel; she knew the General Confession and Great Thanksgiving (Eucharist) by heart. I was impressed.

Nevertheless, during the homily (sermon), she took out a file and manicured her nails. When it came time to receive communion, she bounced up to the rail, received it, and left before the service ended.

May I tell you what she got that day? A nice-looking set of nails and refreshments afterward! Despite God being there to minister to her in a powerful, incarnate reality through His Body and Blood, she missed Him-- even though she said all the right things at the right time, and even drank the wine and ate the bread.

"Be it unto you according to your faith," right?

You'll only get out of Lent what you expect, and only if your faith takes you into the experience out of love for Christ. It bothers me to hear people brag about giving up something for Lent, as if our sacrifices for forty days of booze, cigarettes, and chocolate leave God breathless.

I'm more patient with those who've taken it a step further and are willing to lay aside TV time, electronic games, social networking sites...anything that seems to compete for the time and devotion that belongs to Christ.

But those are only outward distractions. The whole purpose of Lent is to give God permission to step across the carefully guarded threshold into where our deepest desires and real motives dwell...where out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks and the issues of life flow. It's all there--our sexual passions, insecurities, lust for power. Greed is there, along with vanity, pride, selfishness, hatred, bitterness, unforgiveness, lingering offenses, and irrational fears.

Being prepared for the Resurrection means something had to die. We all want the power that comes with rising from the dead, but very few of us want to go through the only way to get it!

Of course, I'm not talking about physical death, but a laying down of all self-absorption--the kind that fills us so full of ourselves that there's little room for the manifested life of Christ to be wrung out onto the dry places and thirsty people around us.

The colors, symbols, signs, and motions of liturgical worship are simply to strike a chord in humanity's five senses to an inward work of grace that's occurring. For instance, the palm branch I so joyously waved as I processed into worship last year on Palm Sunday has been neglected--left to dry up and wither.

It is consumed in fire; and from the remaining ashes, a mark is placed upon my forehead to remind me of how easily a creature from the dust can turn on His Creator.

If we remember the gospel story, the same people that took Palms and welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem were the same people who, just days later, yelled "Crucify Him!" They had been bribed and threatened by the Pharisees.

God sees what we wave at Him when things are going good. He hears the praise reports and thanks.

It's what lurks unaddressed deep inside of us that concerns our Heavenly Father; He knows the enemy will use it against us. At pivotal moments in our lives, we can betray or deny Christ.

Yes, it's dirty work. When I watched my dad uproot an old tree stump, a lot of "groans" emerged from the ground as the deep root system began to surrender to the unrelenting pull of the chains...decades of spreading, tangling, intertwined roots finally made their way to the top as the soil churned and dust flew.

Lent prepares you to fix your heart for your cross; and draw upon the strength and empowerment of the One who has gone before you with His Cross. You will walk out from some of your tombs this year. Maybe not all of them at once, but of this I can be assured:

"And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns." (Philippians 1:6)

If you lose your resolve along the way, if you begin to kick at the pricks and hold on instead of letting go, here's some good news:

Lent will come again; you can repent and start anew!

I invite you to join me during this season for a series of messages that take us from the Garden of Temptation with Adam and Eve to the desert encounters with Jesus.

His three temptations--to turn stones into bread, to jump from the pinnacle of the Temple, and to bow down in allegiance to satan--dealt with the same prevailing heart attitudes that Adam and Eve faced, but did not overcome.

Beloved, nothing has changed. The devil has no new M.O.'s. The times, places, and platforms are different, but all temptations known to humanity fall into one of three categories: self-gratification, self-protection, self-empowerment.

Here's how the Bible catagorizes these temptations: (1 John 2:16)

1) lust of the flesh
2) the pride of life
3) lust of the eyes

 "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Hebrews 4:15-17)

Up Next: Becoming Your Own God

Look for the special Lenten articles under
THE GREAT EXCHANGE: Our Fig Leaves for His Righteousness

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