To Lent or Not to Lent

I was baptized as a baby in a Catholic church.The end.

That was the only point of reference I had for any of the traditions of the Catholic religion, which included Lent. 

My mother eventually converted to the Jehovah's Witness religion and my very Hispanic Catholic baby baptism became of no consequence. 

I eventually became exposed to a distanced, albeit foreign, concept of Lent through the kids in junior high who were Catholic. They would leave school for a few hours on Ash Wednesday only to come back to school with ash crosses on their foreheads. It was foreign to me. It was something that other people did. It meant nothing personally to me. 

For me, Lent became associated with Catholicism and unfortunately hypocrisy as well.

I attributed all religious church traditions with hypocrisy because the first exposure I had with religious church traditions came primarily from those same junior high and high school kids in the small New Mexico town that I lived in. For the most part, if someone was Mexican, they were Catholic. If someone was not Mexican, they were not Catholic. This experience/exposure did not leave me to conclude anything different. 

These Catholic junior and high school kids would cuss up a storm, bully kids on the school bus, yell at the bus driver, brag about their sexual exploits, etc....yet.....when the bus drove by the Catholic church, all these kids would stop what they were doing, make the sign of the cross on their bodies and then proceed with their "bad" behavior once the bus passed the church. 

I was perplexed.  I knew something was amiss. 

However limited my exposure was, that was my first experience with ritualism. Traditionalism. Empty church symbolism. 

I knew I wanted nothing to do with it. 

Lent....or the activity of Lent never crossed my mind again. 

Up until now - six churches and 30 years later, 11 of those years as a non-Catholic evangelical Christ follower. 

Our new church offered an Ash Wednesday service. As foreign as it was to me, I was intrigued. What could this non Mexican, non Catholic context service look like? I surely had no preconceived ideas of what it ought to look like. My husband, on the other hand, grew up Catholic, so he did have to wrestle with his personal past experiences on what it used to look like for him as a former alter boy but at the same time he was pretty stoked about it too. 

My kids were clueless. 

I feel that God was preparing my heart for the idea of participating in a Lent service last year when my family lived isolated lives void of any church fellowship when we lived in the middle of the west Texas desert. Your can read about that here

So, our very first Ash Wednesday service was pretty gosh darn amazing. The service was not liturgical, dry or passive. 

Instead, it was Spirit filled, worshipful, and very much active. 

The service was centered around the Holiness of God, our desperate need for a Savior, and an encouraging renewed reminder of a Holy and Loving God giving us Jesus to reconcile us to the Father. There was lots of singing (which I love), lots of reading of the Bible (which I love), and lots of prayer and reflection (which I need). 

There was the application of the ash crosses on our foreheads, which the kids thought was pretty cool. There was the participation of the Lord's supper. Then there was the anointing of oil at the very end to send us on our way. 

I don't know what I loved more- the actual service and it's complete passion for God or the fact that we finally had a church to celebrate Jesus with. I might venture to say that it's both. 

As a matter of fact, I wish Ash Wednesday was every Wednesday. But I guess that would defeat the reverence of the occasion. 

Along with the actual service, our church is doing a collective fasting and using a devotional titled Journey to the Cross to help foster a reflective and repentant heart as we usher in the solemn death of Christ and glorious resurrection of our Savior and King. 

It is interesting to see the many different view points concerning non-Catholic denominations wrestling with whether we should or should not participate in Lent. 

I've read several blogs on different view points concerning the participation of Lent as a non Catholic. 

Luma Simms, a fellow woman blogger addressed her perspective HERE after she read another blog that questions the sincerity of heart of Lenten participants. You can read that blog HERE

To Lent or not to Lent...I guess that is the million dollar question of the day for evangelical Christ followers. 

Here is my humble yet limited answer. 

1- If you go to a gospel centered, Bible believing/Jesus preaching church and your church does not do Lent....then no worries. Don't do it. Or, if you feel strongly about doing it, then do it privately with your family.

2- If you go to a gospel centered, Bible believing/ Jesus preaching church that does do Lent....then do it with your church family. are my caveats on it. 

1) Lent doesn't make us holy. Only Jesus makes us holy. 

2) Giving up something for 40 days doesn't make us more holy. Only Jesus, through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit makes us more holy. 

3) Focusing on what we have to give up does not make us more holy. Replacing God's word with whatever we give up reorients us to God. It assists us to recognize the magnificent finished work of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This helps in sanctifying us, aka....making us more holy. 

4) Going through the motions of a religious tradition will do nothing for our sanctification if we do not commit to reading scripture, meditating on scripture as it pertains to Christ's work on the cross, reflecting about our outward AND inward sin and recognizing the depravity of our condition, repenting daily, and most of all praying continually. Christ following people, we should be doing this already. 

My personal favorite day of the year is Resurrection Sunday. Ash Wednesday and this Lenten season is now just an extension of Resurrection Sunday as we allow ourselves to start preparing our hearts in deep, humble, yet glorious gratitude that God loved us enough to have a plan to bring His sheep to Himself. He did this by giving something up.

The Father gave up His Son for approximately 33 earthly years for something the Father thought was worth it. That something is his people. 

The Son came eventually die a painful excruciating sacrificial death....for something He thought was worth it. That something is his people. 

I am thankful that I can say with humble confidence.....I am his people.