Lenten Reflection

This time last year Team Magazine posted an article entitled: Pope Francis’ Guide to Lent: What You Should Give Up This Year (click to see original article) in which this acid spraying dinosaur (joking of course)…

…challenged the traditional Lenten Season norm of private fasting.  Pope Francis instead challenges Christians to fast from something more spiritually practical–what he calls, global indifference a.k.a Christian Apathy. 

Many Christians, not just Catholics, observe the season of Lent with some form of fasting.  Some people use it as a time to kill two birds with one stone and become more spiritual fit and physically fit at the same time by fasting from candy, alcohol, sweets, you name it…  If we “have to” fast we might as well shred some pounds right?  Pope Francis would probably agree but not because we gave up sweets.  His “popeliness” calls Christians to  purposefully fast from indifference during Lent.  That is, not turning a blind-eye to people in need.  He quotes John Chrysostom saying, “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”

Chrysostom is being reference a little out of context here.  Saint John is really trying to critique the ancient Christian practice of Asceticism, which means intentionally hurting yourself, fasting until you are malnourished, or putting yourself in intentionally uncomfortable situations by yourself in order to reach some new spiritual plane.  This practice became all the rage after the Christian lifestyle became culturally acceptable in the Early Church and one would not reasonably expect to be martyred for their beliefs.  So the next best thing: Hurt Yourself!  Chrysostom is calling Christians back to the Mission of God–saving the world!  What good does torturing yourself do?  Christ was beaten and mocked and scorned but he didn’t do it to himself.  Others did it to him because he was on mission.  So, I might wind it back a step and challenge that there is NO worth in private fasting that doesn’t actively serve others.  The Scriptures call us to quiet reflection, contemplation, and fasting in secret that only the Father sees.  Still, the pattern of Scripture is that fasting is a preparation of service–the service of others. Picking up on this biblical vein, the Pope wrights, “Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience…whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.” He continues that, “We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”

Ash Wednesday is tomorrow, March 1st.  If you plan on observing this Christian season of self-denial and identifying with the pain and temptation of Christ in the wilderness, what if we took the Pope’s advice from 2015 and used this time to fast from apathy?  At SAWC our #4 Expression states: We tangibly extend hope to those in need. What if we spend our time leading up to Easter intentionally looking to be the hands and feet of Christ to those in need.  Pope Francis says he distrusts charity that “costs nothing and doesn’t hurt.”  While I do believe that God sometimes calls us to go the extra mile in ways that are truly painful and uncomfortable, some Christian service is mutually beneficial.  In fact, the Scriptures often tell of how our obedience in the small things actually turns around on us in the form of blessing after blessing.  This Lent let us practice the Joy of Christian service by fasting from indifference.  And heck, maybe some of that Christians service will have us sweat out a few pounds as well!

Priority Check

Have you ever encountered a person or a situation that completely changed our life? Maybe one day you were walking down the street and caught the glance of a girl and it really was love at first site. You forget about the sandwich you were out to buy and head straight to the girl of your dreams. You were not anticipating this life changing moment but all of a sudden the sandwich doesn’t matter any more.  Or you can flip the scene. Maybe you went on a road trip with a some buddies to Philadelphia because a ‘certain someone’ you were interesting in getting to know better was going to. Why you are walking the streets of Philadelphia you encounter a corner dive bar that sells the best sandwich you have ever had–an authentic philly cheesesteak. All of a sudden your infatuation with this girl morphs into a love affair with this sandwich. You have made the decision: I’m moving to Philly!

Sometimes we meet someone, discover a talent, hear a song, taste a sandwich and this everyday unplanned event dramatically changes the course of our destiny. If a sandwich can change your life plan how much more ought the Good News of Christ? In Matthew 13, Jesus has been telling stories about the Kingdom of Heaven. After discussing with his disciples the meaning of his parable about the wheat and the weeds he changes pace and offers up a priority check for those following him:

“Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand! The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field–and to get the treasure, too!”                    -Matthew 13:43b-44

This guy wasn’t expecting to stumble across a treasure. He literally tripped over it while passing by.  This treasure is so great though that this man is willing to completely reorient his life, sell his possessions, and buy this land so that he can have a real claim to this treasure. Often times we encounter the Gospel and it wakes us up from a spiritual stupor. We didn’t expect these smelling salts but once we are awake Christ calls us to a dramatic overhaul of our priorities. Question is: Has the priority of Christ (the salvation of the world) dramatically affected your life? Would you count his saving grace and work on your behalf a real treasure, a treasure worth your whole life? This is the life that Christ calls us to. When we encounter the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus our life should have a marked difference.

Good Old Zaphenathpaneah (Nicknames)

“So Joseph was put in charge of all Egypt. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I am king, but no one will move a hand or a foot in the entire land of Egypt without your approval.’ Pharaoh renamed him Zapenathpaneah.”

-Genesis 41:43b-45a

Ever had a nickname you hated?  Sometimes nicknames aren’t even bad. When I was in middle school a group of people started calling me Frank for reasons unknown to me. I didn’t care and eventually it faded. Some nicknames though don’t bring out the best in people.  Sometimes nicknaming or name calling is used to bully, degrade, or subjugate people.  Most everyone knows someone or has heard a story about someone who earned a nickname in a bazaar way usually at the expense of their health or emotional welfare. Often times an event can begin to define someone and we can spend what seems like a whole lifetime trying to crawl out from under other people’s perceptions of us.

Naming in the Bible has huge theological significance. It was thought in the ancient world that people are born with their personality and it never really changes (this might give us some insight as to why the gospel writers didn’t include much of Jesus’ life before his public ministry). A person was usually a product of there parents and named a family name or was named based on an experience. Jacob’s name in Hebrew means “the supplanter” because he took hold of Esau’s heel (Genesis 25:26).  Esua means “hairy” (Genesis 25:25). Sarah was told to name her son Isaac (which means laughter) because she giggled at God’s promise. Family, appearance, and action played a huge role in naming and naming had lifelong significance. To know someones name was to know their character and their destiny–“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21).

Names have weight.

Occasionally God intervenes and changes names.  Think Abram to Abraham; or Sarai to Sarah, or, “God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob; no longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.’ So he was called Israel” (Genesis 35:10). God renames him to show him his destiny. Names are powerful especially when they come from God.

After Abraham and Sarah are renamed by God they are consistently referred to by their new names throughout Scripture. After Jacob is renamed you occasionally see him referred to as “Jacob” but usually only to distinguish between Israel the person and Israel the nation.

God’s renaming matters.

After Joseph is bailed out of jail to interpret Pharaoh’s dream he is put in charge of  all of Egypt, “You will manage my household and organize all my people. Only I [Pharaoh] will have a rank higher than yours” (Genesis 41:40). Many interpret this as the hour of God’s favor on Joseph and the soon nation of Israel.  Joseph gets Pharaoh’s signet ring on his finger, beautiful clothing, gold chains, a chariot.  It’s like he has won the Showcase Showdown on the Price Is Right! Pharaoh even gives him a wife…and a new name–Zaphenathpaneah. That is a mouthful. I wouldn’t want that bad boy for a nickname.

Now this isn’t a horror nickname like four-eyes or baby-face.  Biblical scholars best guess at the meaning of Zaphenathpaneah is, “God speaks and lives.”  Pharaoh sees the power of God in Joseph and gives him a flattering nickname.  And remember, this is Pharaoh–“so shall it be written, so shall it be done” type of dude. If anyone’s nicknames should stick it would be his right? Guess how many times the Bible refers to Joseph as Zaphenathpaneah going forward? Answer: None! The very next verse the Scriptures call him Joseph as if nothing ever happened. Why? Joseph’s name means “he [God] will add” and that destiny is not done.

God’s names and God’s purpose for someone’s life outweigh even the power of Pharaoh!

Again I ask the question: ever had a nickname you hated? Do you feel defined by a moment, a dumb decision, by something done to you by someone else? I have news for you: what God calls you matters more!

For those who are in Christ Jesus, God calls us: sons and daughters of the king, righteous, beloved, beautiful, powerful, holy, pure, redeemed, little Christs. Your mom may have called you hopeless; God calls you destined. Your friends in high school may have called you weak; God calls you strong. Perhaps you were the type of person who got lots of looks but not because people thought you were attractive; God calls you beautiful and perfect. People from your past may only see the old you when they look at you but when you accept Christ he calls you: chosen, redeemed, pure, holy.

God’s names for you matter more.