February 8th, 2016
With the Lenten season about to begin this Wednesday, we wanted to get a word in earlier than normal with a view to preparing us for what’s about to take place over the next 40 days.
We’ll focus our attention along two tracks. The first is as we mentioned a couple weeks ago–our vices. Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung has written a rich work exploring them in a book entitled Glittering Vices, from which we’ll borrow heavily. As she cogently explains in each chapter, our vices don’t tend to be our pursuit of illicit things primarily, but rather inordinate pursuit of the perfectly licit. As she explains:
All vices are distorted or excessive attachments to good things. Wrath is ostensibly born of concern for justice and honor, greed regards sufficient possessions, gluttony is about food, vainglory seeks the approval of others. Vice happens when our pursuit of these good things gets twisted, that is, when we try to make them fill gaps and needs in our hearts only God can fill, and when we define happiness in terms of them, rather than appreciating them as (finite) blessings of God.
History has tended to refer to the vices as the “seven deadly sins.” DeYoung recovers the sense of vice because it provides a nuance often lost in the word sin. Our vices are those sins that become habituated in us. They are participation in sin that becomes patterns, to the degree that they almost become an undercurrent of our very being; they, so to speak, become part of our story.
So for the sermons we’ll preach on the vices, we’re entitling the series, “Flipping the narrative.” If the vices to which we might be prone are those sins which have become so recurrent as to be part of our daily storyline, then how does the Gospel effectively “flip” (read: transform) in us the prevailing narrative of vice?
We’ll take a look at the vices through (predominantly) the lens of narrative portions of Scripture in which those vices play out. We begin this Sunday looking at lust (parents, I’ll do my level best to take care in how I express the words and themes associated with this topic), and we’ll let King David’s tragic story in 2 Samuel 11 be our way into seeing its causes, its costs, and also its remedies.
The other focus of our Lenten journey will be on what one scholar has called a “liturgy of life.” It hasn’t been that long since we let James K.A. Smith talk to us about the practices that form us inwardly. He gave special attention to the practice of voiced repentance (what others refer to as penance) as a way of m”putting to death the deeds of the body.”
Smith elsewhere (and often) argues that just as worship services follow a structure in which the congregation participates–in other words, a liturgy–so our very lives follow a set of rituals and patterns we may not be sensible to, but which are ingrained in our living. Our daily routines are our personal liturgies. And Smith argues it’s those liturgies we’ve cultivated over time that may either nurture or diminish our progress in maturing (Col 1:28).
While what we think matters immensely, so, too does what we do with our selves, including our habits. As the late philosopher Dallas Willard put it, “A baseball player who expects to excel in the game without adequate exercise of his body is no more ridiculous than the Christian who hopes to be able to act in the manner of Christ when put to the test without the appropriate exercise in godly living.”
So throughout Lent, we hope to share articles, sprinkle in quotes, and muse on some thoughts on how to adopt “liturgies of life” that form us for our good.
As just one way of helping you cultivate a new liturgy of life, we’re offering you some materials that you might use to structure your thoughts, prayers, and repentance during Lent.
One is a set of devotional readings from a variety of wise women and men, each paired with a Scripture text and a prayer meant to catalyze your own. This material is perhaps best used as a personal devotional, but it could be used just as well to good effect in groups, with the texts, readings, and prayers sparking conversation that ends in prayer. This resource was shared with us by Christ Church Santa Fe and is available for download when you click the pic to the right.
The other resource is a set of morning and evening prayer times, perhaps best used among friends or in a family. It will sound in some ways like what we do in our worship services: a series of call and response readings, with times reserved for personal prayers. It also includes brief musical selections pertinent to that day’s theme, which you can either omit or replace with something else if the song is unfamiliar. This came to us by the kind generosity of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, VA.
There are some aspects of this material from Trinity Pres which could use a little explanation.
First, as you’ll see from the introduction to the material, Trinity Pres is encouraging their congregation to consider times of fasting during Lent. Not necessarily from food, but from anything which the denial of might serve to remind you of your dependence on the Lord.
We’ve written before about what fasting is really for (and what it’s not for). Fasting is not for fasting’s sake, but to free you. Free you either from what you might think is absolutely necessary to your survival (which it isn’t), or free you to the opportunity to give yourself to other practices of good to your soul. As you’ll see in Trinity’s explanation of fasting, this is entirely an optional way of spending your Lent. It may be of good to you, but it is not essential to that good. So, as just a way of providing concrete examples, what are patterns you naturally follow that you might set aside for these 40 days, and take up a different practice for the sake of spiritual attentiveness?
Secondly, this devotional material has two features particularly keyed to leading your children in this season. First, on pages 2, 3 there is description of a “Resurrection Garden” they might create and nurture. You may have seen these before; they’re all over Pinterest we’ve just discovered. We found one site that gives all the information you need to know what materials you need and how to assemble one. (We’ll try run off some hard copies of these for you this week.) This is a simple and tangible way for your kids to connect with what Lent means to convey. The devotional guide specifies how to use the Resurrection Garden in your time with your kids, with a different activity each Saturday. My kids love doing crafts (to a fault!), so I think they might just enjoy to give this a shot. If your family happens to take this on (though individuals, couples, and Community Groups alike can all participate!), send us pictures of yours and we’ll create a collage!
Furthermore, as you’ll see on the list of readings near the back of the guide, there is a supplemental devotional resource they mention which is tailored to speaking with your kids. It’s called Long Story Short. We’re not familiar with it, but it looks like a great way to draw out your kids in authentic conversation about spiritual matters. Trinity’s guide schedules those mini-devotionals for your children once a week. My family will experiment with this during Lent. We’ll share our experience along the way.
To reiterate what we said in our introduction to the Lenten season, everything here is offered as just one way you might be present to God during Lent. It’s not intended to replace how else you might be already doing that. Nor is it to be thought of as an essential element of walking in faithfulness in this season. (Remember our comments about “legalism” last week?) It is no requirement, but it is a proven resource, as attested by its use by sister churches in our denomination.
[For the sake of keeping our printing costs down, if you’d like to use either or both of these resources, we’d respectfully ask you to pick one resource and download the other; hard copies will be available this Wednesday and Sunday.]
We begin our Lenten journey toward Resurrection day with an Ash Wednesday service on the 10th at 6pm. It’s a service intending to impress upon us both our unavoidable frailty and our irrevocable hope.
Across the ages, ashes have been used by God’s people to acknowledge their finitude, express their contrition and repentance, and hearken to the cleansing that comes from God alone. So near the service’s end we will invite any who wish to receive the “imposition” of ashes upon their forehead. While not a sacrament conferring grace, the ashes serve as a physical act reinforcing the sobriety which the Lenten season evokes, as it in invites us to self-examination and repentance. But as we’ll hear, the sobriety enjoined has a purpose greater still.
One parting thought before we close this Backstory.
For all of Lent’s focus on self-examination and repentance, as with all good things, even the good of taking stock of our innermost inclinations can lead to a depleting, rather than edifying, end. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones offers us a helpful warning as we embark on a season of inward inventory:
“I suggest that we cross the line from self-examination to introspection when, in a sense, we do nothing but examine ourselves, and when such self-examination becomes the main and cheif end of our life. We are meant to examine ourselves periodically, but if we are always doing it, always, as it were, putting our soul on a plate and dissecting it, that is introspection. And if we are always talking to people about ourselves and our problems and troubles, and if we are forever going to them with that kind of frown upon our face saying: I am in great difficulty-it probably means that we are all the time centered upon ourselves. That is introspection, and that in turn leads to the condition known as morbidity.” (Spiritual Depression, 17)
While we are clearly enjoined to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling,” it is only with the understanding that “it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). In other words, while it is ours to face, confront, and repent, we are never alone in this work–and never threatened with abandonment in our slow and slogging way out of error and vice. We’re bound to feel burdened by what we find in our inward look. But that is never a burden we’re meant to carry ourselves–and never one we cannot take to Him who means to unburden us of it by His grace.
Jonathan Rundman, “Ashes”
i got ashes on my forehead
and i’m trying hard to learn
this dust that i have started from
is where i shall return
and i will follow out of love
’cause there is nothing i can earn
i got ashes on my forehead
and i’m trying hard to learn
sometime in the dead of winter
this Wednesday rolls around
we got purple on the altar
we got snow upon the ground
and this world starts spinning slower
and we sing some quiet songs
facing our mortality
and all that we done wrong
forty days in the wilderness
forty days on the ark
driving home this evening
i can still trace the mark
everybody sees the big sun setting
everybody rides the hearse
yeah, but you can’t build up nothin’
’til you knock down somethin’ first