People of the Cross & Lent

It’s the season of Lent, the Christian season of preparation before Easter. In Western Christianity, Ash Wednesday marks the first day, or the start of the Lenten days, which begins 40 days prior to Easter (Sundays are not included in the count).

Being the Baptist girl that I am, I didn’t grow up observing Lent.  In fact, I just learned of this season’s specialness not too many years ago.  Each year I do a little more research on it and gather resources that help me learn to observe the Lenten season.  (If you’re like me and are not too sure about Lent, see toward the bottom of this post for more info and some FREE resources.)

Basically, Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ – His Cross, His suffering and His sacrifice, His life, death, burial and resurrection.

Lent and Easter are all about the Cross… which leads me to deeply ponder

The People of the Cross

It’s been heaviest on my mind and heart lately – the most recent Christian Martyrs – who were killed for being “People of the Cross.”

I just can’t get that phrase out of my mind – especially as we enter this Lenten season.  People of the Cross.  Isn’t that what all of us are if we claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?  Yet how many of us (me included!) complain about or dread or congratulate ourselves on our meager sacrifice during this 40 something day period leading up to Easter??? Oh Lord, forgive us!

I can hardly comprehend it, but this isn’t the first or the last time that God-honoring people will be put to death for being called by His name.  Though our government is failing to call it what it is, these latest souls join with centuries of courageous others who chose to bow the knee to Jesus Christ in this life, trading their very breath for a Martyr’s crown to lay at His feet in Heaven.

And then we (me included!) think we are so pious because we are giving up sugar for 40 days? Or TV? Or Facebook?  Oh Lord, have mercy on our weak souls!

People of the Cross… That’s what we are.  And I don’t doubt for a moment that many of us, when put to the test, would choose to die for our faith.  God would give us the courage to do so if the time came.  Because, after all, we know what blessings lie ahead for us.

But the question burning in my soul right now is this: As People of the Cross who would be willing to die for our Savior, are we just as willing to live for Him too?

Jesus said in Matthew 16:24

 
Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone desires to be My disciple, let him deny himself [disregard, lose sight of, and forget himself and his own interests] and take up his cross and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying, also].” (AMP)

The NLT puts it this way:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”

And look at the Message’s version of this verse(s)

24-26 Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?”

Oh my friends, the question the Lord keeps driving deep inside my heart and mind of late is “Am I really living as a Person of the Cross?”  Not in my outward persona where others might be able to answer that question for me… but in the inward person of my own heart where only the Lord and I see… Am I really living and thinking and loving and trusting and obeying as a Person of the Cross?

This could be the most precious Lenten season of our lives if, during the season where we turn toward the Cross, we would choose to become People of the Cross.  In our everyday lives and choices with our time, money, mouths, bodies, homes, talents, possessions… I believe that the Lord is calling us all – offering us an invitation wherever it is that we live, and in whatever it is that we do – to gladly and gratefully take up the cross to follow Him.

Dearest friends, will you and I choose to live as People of the Cross?
A men – So be it, Lord Jesus!

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A little bit about Lent.

Being the Baptist girl that I am, I didn’t grow up observing Lent.  In fact, I just learned of this season’s specialness not too many years ago.  Each year I do a little more research on it and gather resources that help one observe the Lenten season.

Last year our family observed Epiphany from December 26 through Mardi Gras.  (See this Smelling Coffee post for a better explanation.) The Epiphany season of seeking and finding Jesus offers a sweet time of fellowship and intimacy with the Lord and a wonderful way to begin the year with hearts and minds focused on Jesus.

But from fellowship and intimacy with our Holy God, inevitably comes the realization of our sins.  And that’s where Ash Wednesday comes in, and where Lent picks up, leading us to the blessed celebration of Easter.

Lent is the Christian season of preparation before Easter. In Western Christianity, Ash Wednesday marks the first day, or the start of the season of Lent, which begins 40 days prior to Easter (Sundays are not included in the count).

Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ – his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial and resurrection.

The Bible does not mention the custom of Lent, however, the practice of repentance and mourning in ashes is found in 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21.

How Can We Observe Lent?  (This is straight from the BibleGateway.com)

There’s no Scriptural requirement to observe Lent—ultimately, it’s just the six week lead-up to Easter Sunday in the church calendar—but many Christians find it helpful and inspirational to observe the Lent season in some way. Generally speaking, when people observe Lent, they commit to a spiritual activity—prayer, Bible reading, reflection, self-denial, service, etc.—that will sharpen their understanding of Jesus Christ’s own sacrifice as described in the Bible’s account of the first Easter.
The question of whether or not to observe Lent is a personal one with no “right” or “wrong” answer. But if you’re thinking about participating, here are a few ideas to consider.

 

1. Prayer

Prayer is one of the core activities of the Christian life; the Bible commands us to pray continually and assures us of the efficacy of our prayers. Jesus himself took time on the night of his arrest to call out to his Father in prayer. Prayer is thus an understandably popular activity during the Lent season.
When committing to pray over an extended period of time, it might help to choose a theme around which to center your prayers. Consider the following possible prayer “projects” to follow over the course of Lent:
Pray for each member of your family, asking God to bless, challenge, and protect each individual.
As above, but extend your prayers to include the members of your church, neighborhood, or other community. Find a phone directory or other listing of the members of your community, and each day pray for the next person on the list.
Pray for your “enemies”—the people who confound, frustrate, and oppose you! And pray for yourself as well, that you would show your enemies the same grace that Christ showed to his.
Pray for a different country each day during Lent. A few minutes on Wikipedia can give you a basic overview of the challenges facing any particular country. Pray also for missionaries and Christian communities in each country, whether they live in freedom or face daily persecution for their faith.
With a bit of thinking, and perhaps consultation with your pastor or church leaders, you can probably come up with a long list of people and situations that need prayer, both in your local community and across the globe.

 

2. Service

Acts of service, particularly to help the underprivileged and others isolated from mainstream society, have always been at the core of Christian ethics. What acts of service could you perform during Lent?
Cook meals, run errands, and offer a helping hand to a person or family in your community that needs assistance with day-to-day tasks. If you can’t think of anyone who needs this kind of help, your pastor or church leadership can almost certainly identify people for whom “small-scale” help like this would be a literal godsend.
Donate food, money, or time to a local homeless shelter, battered women’s shelter, children’s hospital, or another organization that ministers directly to the hurting.
Go out of your way to (anonymously, if possible) do something nice for a person in your neighborhood or community. Shovel your neighbor’s driveway when it snows; give a financially struggling family you know a gift card for gas and groceries; host dinner for that family you’ve been meaning to meet but haven’t yet.
Identify a missionary family ministering abroad and support them with letters, donations, and/or prayer.

 

3. Scripture Reading

We talk a lot about the value of reading God’s Word here at Bible Gateway. There are few activities you can undertake that will bring you closer to God than to spend time regularly—every day, if possible—reading His Word. God’s hope for His children is that they will “remember my words with your whole being. Write them down and tie them to your hands as a sign; tie them on your foreheads to remind you.”
Reading the Bible regularly is important, but like any good habit, it takes a bit of work to realize and is not without a few early obstacles. But Lent is the perfect time to commit to making Scripture reading a daily practice, no matter how many times you may have tried and failed to do so in the past.
Because this is a topic close to our hearts, we at Bible Gateway have put together a number of resources you might find helpful in kickstarting a Bible reading habit. Take a look at our collection of Bible reading plans—note particularly the Readings for Lent and Easter and Read the Gospels in 40 Days reading plans, both of which are particularly appropriate for Lent. Each of these reading plans organizes the text of the Bible into manageable daily readings and is a good way to pace yourself as you make Bible reading a part of your daily routine. Note that several of these reading plans are available via email, including the brand-new Readings for Lent and Easter from The Voice.
However you go about it, you’ll never regret spending more time in Scripture, and the Lenten season presents an excellent opportunity to finally make it happen.

 

4. Self-denial

The concept of self-denial is also central to Christian faith. Christians are called to refrain not just from thoughts and activities that are spiritually harmful, but from anything that is not beneficial to themselves and others; and to focus instead on what is true and praiseworthy.
As with other Lent observances, this is something Christians are expected to practice throughout the year, not just during Lent or holiday seasons. But for many Christians, Lent is a good opportunity to re-examine their lives to identify what unhelpful habits ought to be cut off.
But beyond refraining from indulging bad habits during Lent, many Christians choose to voluntarily deny themselves a particular activity or habit not because it’s spiritual harmful, but because the practice of self-denial echoes and calls attention to the Christian duty to consider our needs and desires less important than other people’s. The small pain of missing a comfortable daily habit reminds us of the real hardship experienced by Christ and the countless believers throughout history who have faced trials and deprivation on account of their faith.
So what sort of things might you consider “giving up” for Lent? For starters, Lent is as good a time as any to get serious about cutting off any spiritually unhealthy practices that have crept into your life. Beyond that, you can give up anything for Lent, big or small—anything from coffee to TV to fast food to internet use—as long as it’s something whose absence you will feel. The daily reminder of sacrifice, however small it may seem, is part of the Lent experience.

 

Beyond Lent and Easter

One of the wonderful things about Lent observances is that they have a way of sticking. If you stick to something for six straight weeks, chances are it’s well on its way to becoming a meaningful and healthy habit. You may reach the end of Lent to find that your Lenten acts of kindness have permanently changed your attitude about service; or that you really can live without a habit that had once seemed integral to your life; or that spending time in prayer now feels like such a natural part of your life that your day just wouldn’t feel right without it.
However you observe Lent, and even if you don’t, we hope that the journey to Easter is an opportunity for you to consider how your actions and attitudes echo (or don’t echo) those of Jesus Christ. And as Easter approaches, may you find yourself drawn closer and closer to the Savior to whom we are reconciled.

Even though the Lenten Season started on Wednesday, there is still plenty of time to participate and turn our hearts toward the cross!   I’ve gathered a few FREE resources and devotionals to do just that during these days before Easter.

1.  Bible Gateway offers 5 different FREE devotional resources that will be emailed straight to your inbox each day.

An eclectic mix of Scripture passages and reflections to help you think through and apply the message of Easter. Begins on Ash Wednesday, February 18.

Journey to Easter with 22 short, daily inspirational reflections from pastor and author Mel Lawrenz. Begins on March 15.

Discover the true meaning of Easter with this week-long daily devotional written by beloved author Max Lucado. Begins on Ash Wednesday, February 18.

A devotional journey with WW2 pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer that will both challenge and encourage you throughout the Lenten season. Begins as soon as you sign up.

Read a daily Scripture passage chosen to focus your heart and mind on the message of Easter. Visit our reading plans page to sign up.

How easy is that?  You can sign up here.

2.  Journey to the Cross – Daily Readings for Lent, compiled and published in e-book form by The Gospel Coalition.  This download is FREE and can be opened on a variety of readers.  Click here for the book.

3.  The Bible.  There are a ton of wonderful resources that will help turn our hearts toward the cross – but the most vibrant one remains God’s rich Word.  Pray and ponder your way through the book of John or Matthew or Mark or Luke during this season.  Ask the Holy Spirit to be your Teacher and get to know your Savior more intimately by following in His footsteps over the next month and a half.  This post will give you a jump start and help in How to Study the Bible. 🙂

 

A blessed season of the Cross to each of you~

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About SmellingCoffee

I'm a Jesus-loving, husband-loving, family-loving minister's wife and mom to two teenagers, making our home and serving our Lord in the Mississippi Delta. I study, teach, speak, and write for the greatest Boss in the universe. "Faith, Family, Food, Fun, and Living Life brewed in the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus Christ in every place": That's what you'll find at SmellingCoffee.com

Comments

  1. Jennifer,

    Thanks for mentioning our lent devotional here (Journey to the Cross). While the free version has been removed, 2e are excited to let you know that an updated hard copy version is now available through New Growth Press, or you can get it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Journey-Cross-Will-Walker/dp/1945270020

    For the gospel,

    Will Walker

    ————————————–

    Journey to the Cross is a 40-day guide that looks into six central themes of the Christian life: repentance, humility, suffering, lament, sacrifice, and death. Moving beyond just “doing penance,” it helps Christians focus on Christ’s sacrifice for us—the real meaning of Easter and the reason we celebrate.

    Ben Peays, Executive Director of The Gospel Coalition, says, “This is the most helpful resource for Lent I have found. If you are looking for something to guide you through the Lent season—to serve as a tool of preparation and repentance as you immerse in the story of the gospel—I highly recommend this guide.”

  2. Jennifer, I am soaking in the richness of this post…. convicted and compelled to be different this Lent. I too do not come from a background or a current denomination where Lent is a part of our services. But I believe it’s such a rich experience that I feel called to take part. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and love of the Lord here Friend. Love you!