Ash Wednesday: The beginning of penitential preparation. YES PLEASE!

Today is Ash Wednesday.This is the start of the lent. According to Wikipedia "The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events of the Passion of Christ on Good Friday, which then culminates in the celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ."

Everything about this paragraph is an anathema to our modern understanding of Christianity. It is an interesting gut check to see how the traditional penitential preparation fits in our grace based world view. We are saved by the blood, there is no more need for guilt, shame, law, or penitence.

But maybe we are missing something dramatic in our spiritual diet by missing out on some of the vegetables of the Christian Faith. A friend of mine recently took on a juice fast, and as he did, he noticed some remarkable things occur within his body. The chicken nuggets and soda that were part of his daily diet, now had a fowl stench, and he awoke a new craving for things healthy and fresh.

For this season of Lent I am leaning into this penitential preparation. I have decided to add a prayer exercise, a fast, and self denial. And my hope is that in 40 days, as I celebrate Easter, I will have awoken a fresh hunger and awareness to the Holy Spirit and the things of God.

My Prayer Exercise: The Prayer of Examine The prayer of examine is an ancient practice where you recount the activities of the day and reflect upon where you noticed God showing up, where you ignored the things of God, and in this Lenten case, where I have sinned intentionally or through omission. Normally this is a light hearted invitation to sharpen our senses towards the Holy Spirit, but because it is Lent, I look forward to become even more aware of my sin, take it seriously, recognize my overwhelming need for Christ, and work like crazy to limit its power and impact in my life and in the lives of those around me.

A Fast: See You Later Sugar! I know giving up sugar and sweets is the number one fast of Lent, so why not join the crowd. I do long to crave the healthy things of life and to not be such a slave to sugar and the instant high it seems to offer. No matter what the fast is, it is an intentional sacrifice that I will be confronted with for the entire 40 days and will provide me an opportunity to self-discipline and focused prayer.

Self Denial: The Dawn Will Once Again Be My Friend The more and more I have read about Lent the theme of self sacrifice comes up over and over. And because there is nothing my body desires that I deprive it of, then sleep is what is getting the axe this Lent. I often feel like God is inviting me into a discipline of early morning devotions, and I often discount that legalistic call in favor of praying whenever I want. But for this Lenten season, sleep is the focus of my self discipline. As I die to sleep and embrace the quiet of the morning, I am anticipating meeting Jesus in a fresh way. The natural fatigue that will follow this discipline will hopefully force me into a more sustainable rhythm with my evenings.

This discipline of self denial, together with my fasting and prayer exercise will beat my body into submission. For my spirit has always been willing, but my flesh is so, so weak. For this season I plan to flip the script and see what happens when I lean into the Spirit's leading and awaken my diet to these foreign disciplines.

This is what I am leaning into this Lenten season. What will you be doing for penitential preparation? Or does that phrase smell too much like the dark ages for you? Is there a place to embrace freedom and grace and intentionally die to it for season for spiritual discipline?

an internet fast for the month of july

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The Gigantic Time Suck: Have you ever sat down and kept track of what you do with your time?  It is an awful exercise.  It is awful because if you do it honestly you will probably come to the same conclusion I did, which is I waste an incredible amount of time.  Think about how much time you spend surfing the web, checking Facebook, checking email, reading blogs, watching YouTube.  Now, instead of thinking about how much time you spend doing it, I would encourage you to actually log it.  If you do, you will be horrified at how much of your day gets lost into the black hole of the internet.

I get that we live in an era where the internet is vital to our lives and vital to our jobs.  In fact I love the internet, and think that it's an amazing tool for communication, information and ministry.  But if we aren't careful, the internet can become just a gigantic time suck; a distraction from the real life and real things that God has called us to do.

God Tricked Me:

Over this last year, God has been inviting me into a new season of growth, of discipline, and of ministry, and He did it in the trickiest of ways.  This last spring I finally got my iPad, and was now armed with all the technology I needed to be a 21st century, tech-savvy, ministry machine.  I was committed to getting my entire life on this device so I would have all the documents, emails, notes, and books together in one compact, (and might I add), beautiful piece of machinery.

My favorite app has turned out to be the Kindle app.  Instead of carrying around the three to four books I'm reading, I could switch effortlessly between them, and even squeeze in a game of Angry Birds when I needed a break.  I went on a shopping spree that, I am sure, has made a noticeable impact in the quarterly earnings report for Amazon.com execs.

One of the books I bought on my amazing new technology was called The Next Story. It is a fantastic book about how technology shapes our worldview.  But more than shaping our world view, technology actually shapes the way we process information and ultimately impacts our understanding of Faith.   I love this book because the author isn't screaming that the sky is falling or that YouTube is ruining a generation.  He is simply pointing out that social media and technology are impacting our understanding of faith and our concept of community.  It's incredibly interesting to say the least.

An Invitation From Virtual To Actual:

But through the combination of evaluating how I use my time and reflecting on this book, God has been inviting me into a new season of growth and discipline.  In order for me to be the man that God has designed me to be, I must be present and available.  I must be able to quiet my mind and be willing to reflect.  But this is becoming more and more difficult as more and more of my mental space is consumed with virtual things. Because of that, I'm missing out on some of the most important things in my life.

I am very much invested in the culture of consumption.  For the longest time, I thought of consumption simply in terms of food, energy, materialism, etc.  But even more than a consumer of all these things, I am a consumer of information.  For whatever reason, technology has tricked me into thinking that I must be on top of all the latest and greatest.  Why does it matter to know all the political discourse that happens throughout the day?  Why do I really care about the goings-on of mere acquaintances?  What do I think I will miss if I don't watch the latest YouTube?  And worst of all, why do I think people should care about my comings and goings as well?

I have fallen a little too far down the rabbit hole of the virtual world.  I am consumed with consuming information: information about the world, about friends, about culture.  But all of this consumption has just made me fat and lazy.  And for this reason I am going on a strict diet.

Going From Consumer to Contributor:

For the last month, God has been slowly reorienting my heart, soul, and mind, to the point where I am looking forward to dying to my consuming lifestyle. To pull this off, I am turning off the internet.  At first this seems like an impossibility, but that is only at first.  I just watched my students unplug for a week, and I watched this amazing transformation happen as they were actually present.   Being present allowed them to fully engage.  They built new friendships, had to work through conflict, lengthened their attentions span, and even connected with God in new and deeper ways.

By turning off the internet, I am looking forward to being present.  I am tired of being tethered to a world that has little to no bearing on my real life.  My real life is here in flesh and blood, with my friends and family.  It is a crime that I can not engage them because I am thinking about things and people who are--for sure--not thinking about me in the slightest.

By turning off the internet, I am looking forward to contributing to the world.  Consuming all this information online has this way of tricking us into thinking we are participating in some grand conversation.  But we are just consuming, and affirming the consuming by others.  By turning this off for a while, I will be forced to take a break from consuming, from wasting time, from being inefficient.  And without the distraction of the internet, I will be able to produce, to contribute.  I will be able to get my work done in a timely manner, and be present with the people I love and care for.

I will have to grow up and mature as well.  Whenever the conversation grows stale or I have some time to kill, I have traditionally used that as a cue to go online and check facebook or read a blog.  Now, I will have to grow up and re-learn how to have conversation, how to ask questions, how to share my life.  I have to show up and contribute.

See You In A Month:

The internet is not a bad thing, in fact it is a great thing.  And in no way am I  saying that the sky is falling.  I have just simply noticed that for me, I have transitioned from being a contributor,  to participating in this weird form of idol worship known as consuming information for the sake of consuming it.  For me, I have been reminded that my real life is with the flesh and bones of the people in my proximity, and that they need me to be more present than I have been in a long while. For me to grow in the ways I need to grow in my walk with God, I must have more mental space to be quiet and listen and not fill it with nonsense from online.

For these reasons, I am accepting this invitation from God to mix up my virtual diet, for the purpose of personal, spiritual, and professional growth.  I am trusting that God will use this dramatic increase in spare time to connect with my family, to love on my kids, and to actually be present in conversations.  I am trusting that God will use this free space in my mind to prune the dead and dying things and cause new growth, to actually allow God to search me, know me, test me, reveal any offensive ways in me, and direct me along the path to everlasting life.  And professionally I am looking forward to contributing.  I have some real work that has to get done around the office, some planning and preparation for this upcoming year of ministry.  I have a writing project that is half done that I will be trying to wrap up this summer.  And by using my time more effectively with these projects, I will actually have more time and energy for the part of the job I love the most, being with my students and enjoying life with them.

So, with all that being said--

I will see you in a month!