In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
   by taking the very nature of a servant,
   being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
   he humbled himself
   by becoming obedient to death—
      even death on a cross!
Phillipians 2:5-8

Today is the first day of Lent (the 40 days before Easter). It snuck up on me. I’ll admit that growing up, we never observed Lent. It wasn’t part of our tradition, so I never gave it any thought. I’ve had a few friends who came to work with smudges on their heads over the years, but it never occurred to me that I should be interested in liturgy.

But recently the idea of observing Lent has become more attractive to me. In part, the significance of Easter to the Christian faith is so profound that it seems wrong to only observe a single day. Especially when that day often is more about bunnies, eggs, and chocolate (I’ll admit, I do like a good chocolate bunny!), it seems to me that it doesn’t have the gravity, the sanctity, the holiness that it deserves.

Last year was my first foray into observing Lent, but I went after it half-heartedly. I noticed my pants getting snug in the early spring (late winter?) and took advantage of the fact that Lent had begun to begin a fast from my favorite calorically-enhanced beverages. It really was more about weight (waist) than faith, but nevertheless, I learned how much power my not-quite-addictions had over me. They called strongly to me for quite some time, until new habits were firmly established.

So this year, I’m taking another step, and choosing a fast for the sake of the fast (although my waist will likely benefit). Now, fasting is an area that I really don’t understand. I’ve done food fasts, but usually because someone else asked me to join one. I can’t say that I observed any particular sense of being closer to God during those times. I have instituted TV fasts in my house, typically when I felt the “boob tube” had become too dominant in our family’s lifestyle. And I’ve fasted from other things (including my computer) whenever it seems that my addictive nature is flaring.

What I do find in fasting is that the flesh cries out for what it used to have. Sometimes the attraction is almost palpable. It takes supreme effort at times to deny the flesh and hold to the fast.

What I find most amazing about Jesus’ life on earth was that it was basically a 33-year fast. He set aside the glory of heaven and lived as a humble servant all of his life. And don’t kid yourself that he didn’t want to do other that what he did. Just look at his prayer in the garden… “Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” In all things, Jesus is an example to us of faith and dependence on God.

So if I can set aside one or more of my passions or time wasters for 40 days in preparation of the celebration of the cornerstone of history, it seems a small price to pay, and a small gift to give in comparison to what has already been given to me. Will you join me? Prepare your hearts to celebrate the resurrection of our King!

Do You Take This Woman?

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
Ephesians 5:25

You don’t get through 25 years of marriage without accumulating a few bumps and bruises along the way. It seems to me that the longer I’ve been married, it’s the same places that get bruised over and over again. The trouble is that just a light touch on a sensitive spot brings all the accumulated hurt and resentment back to the surface again.

Most of my hurts are not moral issues, where one person is clearly wrong and the other is clearly right. I don’t think I’d have any problem dealing with such failings. “I’m sorry, dear. I shouldn’t have killed the mailman.” “You are right, robbing that bank was a big mistake.” “OK, I’ll stop tripping the blind man.”

Instead, I find my hurts in areas of preference. I want one thing, but she wants another. Do we stay in or go out? Mountains or beach? Almond Joy or Mounds? The challenge here is that one person must give in order that the other might gain. When we discuss these issues, the underlying question always seems to come down to, “So I can never have what I want? I always have to give you your way?” It’s a difficult call.

Recently, I was stewing about one of my biggest bruises that had just been re-injured. I was contemplating the ways I would make sure to let my wife know that she had wronged me, and how I would show her just how it feels to be treated that way. But God would not leave me alone. As I was plotting my revenge, he brought specific scriptures to my mind, reminding me that my plan was ungodly. Then, as I was driving, I heard on the radio how it was National Marriage Week (who would plan that to coincide with Valentine’s Day???). How could I push my wife away when it was a time to promote and defend marriage?

Finally, as I was worshipping God in church, I had an experience of his presence in such a powerful way that I never wanted to leave. As the moment passed, and the glory of his presence began to fade, I heard him say, “Now forgive.”

Failing to seek revenge is one thing. But why can’t I stew in the juices of my resentment? Do I really have to let it go? To be obedient, the answer is, “yes.”

Basically, demanding one’s own way is nothing more than selfishness, and selfishness is just a form of idolatry. Selfishness says, “I am god and you must serve me.” Instead, God commands husbands (that would be me) to love their wives as Christ loved the church. So how did Christ love the church? He gave himself up for her. True love, godly love, God’s love is sacrificial. It gives to the point of death. Death of expectation and demands. Death of control and agenda. Death of self. Rather than selfish, it is selfless.

I have probed the wounds of Christ over and over as I have neglected him, rejected him, and demanded my own way, rather than surrendering myself to him. A popular song includes these words

“I am the thorn in your crown
But You love me anyway
I am the sweat from Your brow
But You love me anyway
I am the nail in Your wrist
But You love me anyway
I am Judas’ kiss
But You love me anyway”

After all that I’ve done, Christ loves me (a part of his church) still. Inasmuch as Christ has loved me, and continues to love me, and forgives all my offenses, I am called to do no less. So as an act of my will, and in obedience to my Lord’s command, I will die to myself and I will love my wife.

Happy Valentine’s Day!