I was looking through my scrapbook and found myself challenged anew by this pastor’s letter I wrote in March 2001 when I pastored Trinity UMC in Patton, PA. Even though eight years have passed, I sadly realized that I was back to the same busyness and distractedness as I was way back then. I needed to hear the Lord speak this message to me again… and so I share it pretty much as I did back then, just in case I’m not the only one who might benefit from a reminder…
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“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” —Psalm 51:16-17
This past week we celebrated Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. When I was growing up, and even until about age 28, I couldn’t have even told you what the word ‘Lent’ even meant. I knew that my Roman Catholic co-workers couldn’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent, but that was about all I understood. Nineteen years as a United Methodist have taught me a bit more. You see, it’s not just a Catholic observance and it really has nothing to do with meat. It’s about repentance. It’s about the heart of a believer in Jesus Christ.
Ash Wednesday and Lent are about the turning away from sin… for sin separates us from God. Sin, even the “littlest sins,” are an offense against God. In Lent, we are asked by the church to intentionally take time out from our normal year-round hustle and bustle to check how we are doing in this area of sin. Is there sin in our lives keeping us separated from God?
This is strictly an observance for those of us who go to church. For WE are the ones who are most likely to be lulled into laxness because we feel “good” simply because we go to church. And the enemy of our souls hopes that we feel so righteous because of our church attendance that we won’t pay attention to the Spirit of God that tries to point out our sins.
For me, my separation from God isn’t from huge newspaper headliner kinds of sin, but rather by my getting distracted… You see, I get busy. Busy with good things. Busy with work (and my work is God’s work, right?) Busy with family. Busy with checking email. Busy with following a particular TV program (or two or three). Busy trying to keep my cars running, the garbage taken care of, the basement cleaned out…
And although every single one of those busy moments is an ‘OK’ event, there are so many of them that it tends to crowd out God. Even with the job I have, busyness can threaten my relationship with Jesus Christ because I have no time for Him. And then I find the first commandment saying that I’m supposed to be putting God first, or else I’m SINNING!
That’s why Lent has times of sacrifice. Not because God wants the sacrifice or gets some thrill from watching us do without or suffer. Giving up chocolate or meat doesn’t give God some kind of ecstatic joy. But rather, WE need to offer up something., to give up something, in order to free ourselves from all the distractions that would threaten our time with our Lord, our God, our Christ.
Is the Lord trying to catch your attention? Is He asking you to give up something in order to free your time or your attention to seek Him more? What will need to happen in your life to free you up to turn your heart completely over to Him? From what will you need to repent before you start?
I realize that Lent has already started, but it’s not too late to refocus on your relationship with your God. As we journey through this season of Lent together, let’s be watching for the sins and distractions that would keep us separated from Christ. And let’s be ready to give up ANYTHING that would keep us too busy to spend time with Him and give him our full attention.