Greetings in the name of The Lord,

Yes. It seems like Christmas was over like a week ago and we are already poised to enter the Lenten season. However, I’m not sure my next-door neighbor got the memo because his Christmas lights are still up and litevery single night.

Just like my neighbor who seems super-duper “Christmasy”, many folks grew up super-duper “Catholicy”.

Perhaps like myself, you fall into that category.There were dozens of girls in my small Catholic grade school named Mary and at least four girls in my class alone (out of 12) with the middle name Ann.

And the Catholic guilt….Aye aye aye…

But, in all honesty, Catholic guilt has both haunted me and motivated me. The same guilt that often haunts me to the Sunday morning church “obligation”, is the exact motivation that got me back INTO the church when I moved away in my teenage years and was living a reckless lifestyle. And every year, when Lent comes, I am still tempted to give something up.

As a good Catholic boy, I would of course faithfully give something up so that the Priests and Nuns would be pleased and not punish me. And so, my sacrificial Lenten boycott of beets and brussel sprouts was an annual motion in spiritual renewal, albeit feigned.

I am at least partially convinced that the discipline is still good, even if I still doesn’t see exactly how to “offer up” my discomfort, which is what I was instructed early on to do with suffering.

And it appears there is at least some perceived solidarity among others who are giving up things of their own…it seems to foster a camaraderie of staying strong in the face of temptation.

………After all, beets are DELICIOUS….to somebody.

Historically, Lent is a period of fasting, moderation, and self-denial observed by Catholics and some Protestant denominations. It begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday. The length of the Lenten fast was established in the 4th century as 46 days (40 days, not counting Sundays). During Lent, participants eat sparingly or give up a particular food or habit. It’s not uncommon for people to give up smoking during Lent, or to swear off watching television or eating candy or telling lies. It’s six weeks of self-discipline. Lent began as a way for Catholics to remind themselves of the value of repentance.

And repentance is not only valuable but commanded. The strictness of the Lenten season was seen as similar to how people in the Old Testament fasted and repented in sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:1-3; Jeremiah 6:26; Daniel 9:3).

However, over the centuries Lenten observances have developed a much more “ceremonial” value. Many Catholics believe that giving something up for Lent is a way to attain God’s blessing. But, our reformed Baptist beliefs remind us that the Bible clearly teaches that grace cannot be earned; grace is “the gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17).

Also, Jesus taught that fasting should be done discreetly: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:16-18). As an aside, Jesus’ command to “wash your face” may seem to at least come in minor conflict with the practice of rubbing ashes on one’s face on Ash Wednesday for all the world to see…but we shall leave ALL judgment to Him.

In the end, self-denial can be a good thing, and God is pleased when we repent of sinful habits; so, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with setting aside some time to focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, repenting of sin is something we should be doing every day of the year, not just for the 46 days of Lent.

If Christians choose to observe the Lenten season, he or she should feel perfectly free to do so. The key is to focus on repenting of sin and consecrating oneself to God. Lent should not be a time of boasting of one’s sacrifice or trying to earn God’s favor or increasing His love. God’s love for us could not be any greater than it already is as already evidenced by His sacrifice FOR US! He will not love us any more if we observe Lent and will not love us any less if we choose not to.

Whatever you choose, May The Lord bless you in all of your efforts this Lenten season.
With much love,
Pastor George

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