Soul Renewal and giving up ice cream

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Last Saturday, on a sunny winter morning, I took my car to be washed. While there, I threw open the doors, vacuumed the carpets, and wiped down the dashboard. The dirt, old receipts, and little spills all accumulated so slowly that I did not see them until I really looked and realized – “this car is a mess!”  Similarly, all Christians need times of ‘soul’ renewal, don’t we?  The clutter of petty sins builds up almost imperceptibly.

  • Nobody ever became godly or stayed that way without being intentional and engaging with effort. Oh yes, Jesus saves but we work out the implications of that salvation as we ‘keep step with the Spirit.’

Tomorrow, Christians are invited to enter the season of Lent, 40 days marked by repentance, that includes time to reflect on life, to examine our hearts, and perhaps to enter a ‘fast.’ Traditionally the opening of Lent is called “Ash Wednesday” because ashes made from palm fronds from the previous year’s celebration of Palm Sunday are used by some churches to mark the forehead with a sign of our humility. Those ashes are also a reminder of our inevitable appointment with death; that ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ thing we say at gravesides.

Are you still stuck on that word – fasting?  In the most narrow meaning fasting is about abstaining from food but we can enter the joy of fasting in many ways.  We can choose to suspend our enjoyment of something like time on social media, or the amount of time we watch television. We can fast by laying aside the pampering of Self. Whatever our choice, true fasting is not focused on the ‘deprivation’ but rather on the pursuit of the Presence of God. If we enter into a fast as an act of obedience, offered in faith to God, we can our attention to the things of God sharpened.

God made us with a spirit-body connection! What we do in our physical body has an effect on our spiritual state- both positively and negatively. Paul starkly says “So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27, NLT)  A literal translation of the NT Greek would read “I pound my body into submission!”  God does not ask us to abuse ourselves. We need not actually beat ourselves bloody, but there is maturity in reminding ourselves that life is more than food, clothes, or comfort.

Jesus urged us to practice spiritual disciplines like fasting, giving, and prayer without telling anyone. Such choices, because they are acts of faith, must be very personal. He said, “when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, who try to look pale and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I assure you, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will suspect you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in secret. And your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18 NLT)

If we ‘show off’ or if we judge those who do not practice spiritual disciplines as we do, we rob ourselves of the value of offering ourselves to God. Our ‘spirituality’ turns into a self-centered display of religion and empty traditions. Our Lenten devotions must not be used as a means of making ourselves feel better than someone else.

Will you give up ice cream for Lent?  If you do, do it for the purpose of seeking the Lord. (I think we might be better served by giving up some TV time for prayer, meditation or reading Scripture.) Don’t do it just because I said to. Rather, pray about it. Ask the Lord if you need to discipline your body to provide freedom for the Spirit, to allow for a reset.  Has junk accumulated in your heart? Lent is an invitation to get ready for the JOYOUS celebration of the Resurrection, God’s ultimate declaration that He makes all things NEW.

Here’s a word from the Word. Think deeply and prayerfully on the promise of this passage.  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. … Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. … so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.” (Philippians 2:3-4, 12-13,15, NIV)
______

Kyrie Eleison
(a Lenten prayer in song by Chris Tomlin)

Lord have mercy Christ have mercy
Hear our cry and heal our land
Let kindness lead us to repentance
Bring us back again

 For Your name is great and Your heart is grace
Kyrie Eleison (translation – Lord, have mercy)
Over all You reign You alone can save
Kyrie Eleison
Lord have mercy Christ have mercy on us now

 Who is this God who pardons all our sin
So ready to forgive
You delight to show Your mercy 

For Your name is great and Your heart is grace
Kyrie Eleison
Over all You reign You alone can save
Kyrie Eleison

 Lord have mercy Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy Christ have mercy on us now

 Chris Tomlin | Jason Ingram | Matt Maher | Matt Redman
© 2016 S. D. G. Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
Said And Done Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

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