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Doing What's Hard - By Pastor Tom Engel

Even before the beginning of the first of the year, I was getting emails from Christian based companies that were promoting materials like daily devotions for the forty days of Lent. The emails asked, “Is your congregation ready for Lent?” At that time, I thought that we just got through Christmas, so my answer was, “No, we are not ready for Lent. Let’s first get through a little bit of the season of Ephiphany.”

But now it is getting to be the middle of February, and it is time to think of Lent with Ash Wednesday coming up at the end of the month. A question that we ask one another before Lent is, “What are you giving up for Lent?”

This tradition of giving up something for Lent goes back to the time of the Early Church. At that time, during the threat of Roman persecution against Christians, becoming a Christian was a serious business of taking extensive preparation for years. Converts were baptized on Easter, so the last part of this preparation took place during Lent, and it became an intense time of “purification and enlightenment.”

Christians who had been baptized saw the benefit of continuing in this time of sincere devotion and discipline. Taking this time to recommit to their faith, they would give up something to remember the sacrifices that Christ had made when he went to the cross to die for the sins of the world.

For us today, it is common to give up some kind of sugary treat that we crave. If a person likes chocolate and is eating a candy bar every day to satisfy his passion for chocolate, that person might give it up for Lent. Every time that person has the urge to satisfy his sweet tooth in the forty days of Lent, he will, instead of reaching for a candy bar, say a prayer and think of Jesus.

At first, for us to give up something for Lent, whatever that something is, seems light compared to the heavy subject of Jesus’ death on the cross for the world’s sins. My sacrifice is nothing compared to what Jesus had done for me. But if I can go deep with it, and if I can do something every year that adds up to a more devout life, the purpose of growing closer to my Lord and Savior is working.

I may go back to whatever I gave up after Easter, but good habits have increased that I can keep building on after every season of Lent. Also, during Lent, it has been said not to think about what to give up but what to add. For the forty days, a person might think of adding something like patience. Maybe a person realizes that he does not have much patience. So, the person might see times when he is usually not very patient like in heavy traffic, and he will now chill more when his bumper is staring at the bumper in front of him and take this time to meditate on the grace of God.

Lent is a time of preparation for Easter, so we can sing our Alleluias even stronger than praise Jesus’ victory over sin, eternal death, and Satan. But we need to remember that giving up or adding is voluntary-devotion to Jesus is never forced.

We should decide for ourselves what is the best way in each Lenten season to commit our time and hearts to Jesus. The Christian life is a lot about developing good habits, so we are on the path to strengthening and deepening our understanding of our faith. We are to have a “regular” prayer life and time that is spent reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word. When we are moving about our day, we are to wear our faith on our sleeves for others to see and benefit from what we have to share in Christ.

I’m all in for the Lenten season to be a special time of devotion and discipline. With that being said, I have another idea that we can possibly use this Lent. One of the things that we talk about in the Christian life is that it is different than a worldly life.

One of the facts in life is that as long as we are walking on this planet, we have to see that we are human. As people with flesh and bone, we are sinners who at times will sin. Yes, by the grace of God, we have the wonderful gift of repentance and forgiveness of every sin. But, we have to admit that we can stay stuck in a particular sin.

My thought is that we need to focus on turning from that one sin. Lent would be a good time with the extra time spent in devotion to turn from a sin that has been around for a while, and if it has been around for even a little bit of time, it has been around too long. Sin can only cause problems like a small sore that if left untreated, can become more infected and spread to other places.

Some sins have a way of hiding their consequences. We can actually get use to negativity and think that something bad that keeps recurring in our lives is normal. Breaking the cycle of any sin can be hard. As a matter of fact, the human spirit alone can’t do anything about sin but make it worse.

Sometimes in conflict with others, saying, if I’m in the wrong, “I’m sorry” can be hard, or even saying when on the other side, “I forgive you” can be hard because of the hurt that I’m feeling. Our egos can stop us from having the humility that it takes to heal relationships. In a situation that is not going right, it is hard to accept that we are the problem or even part of the problem.

Again, this is all up to you, but if all you do this Lent is to focus on one sin that is holding you back from a full life with God and others, it is best to work on that one. It’s true that God forgives sin in a second, but the work of not repeating the sin takes effort. One sin can leave a mess and letting go of the residue of negative thoughts and feelings takes a conscious effort.

Facing sin can be hard, but if we look at sin from the view of faith, it goes much easier. Faith tells us the way sin gets forgiven and how life gets much better after sinful situations. It’s not that getting past sin is easy, but it is easy for us because Jesus has done all the hard parts.

During Jesus’ ministry, everything that he did was a hard road. God never really takes the easy route to get His work done. To save humanity from a flood, God had only one man and his family to build a huge ark. When God’s people were enslaved by the brutal Egyptians, God chose a man who had a speech impairment to make his case before Pharaoh to let His people go. To fight a mighty giant, God had David bring a rock to a sword fight.

Jesus came to take away the sin of the world, and nothing about Jesus’ coming into the world was easy. From his birth in a rough stable to the threats of Herod wanting to take his young life, and from teaching and preaching to some people who felt threatened by him to then facing people who formed a crowd who did want to kill him, Jesus came to do the hard work of fighting sin, Satan, and eternal death on the cross.

When I was teaching a kindergarten class about Jesus walking on water, a shy girl made the observation,

“Why did Jesus decide to walk on water during a storm? Walking on water is hard enough.” This little girl’s question brings out even more than when we look at divine power anything is possible. Peter would have had no trouble walking on water if he had trusted in his Lord, but he let his fears get the better of him.

During this season of Lent, it may seem strange, and you are always to do what you think is best for yourself, but I am thinking about listening to whatever is feeling unsettled inside of me. With talking about sin here, I need to hear again of God’s forgiveness of the sin that I’ve done. I know that God has forgiven me, but I have not let go of some of the guilt and shame. It’s hard for me to give up the “bad” feelings of my past sins because I knew I had known better at the time.

We are not meant to be burdened with anything bad. Although we do have to say that life can be tough and hard, but life can be good because we can know that Jesus is carrying the load for us. The best thing that we can do is to keep reconnecting to God’s grace and power in Christ.

For this Lenten season, think about making some plans to reclaim all that God gives to us in Christ. If you can imagine having a talk with your sinful nature and say, “We are going to do what’s hard. It’s time to make some good changes around here.” Then, take a walk with Jesus, and see how he makes it work for you, and how with Jesus, changing a life for the better is really rather easy.

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