What are you giving up for Lent?
Now that we have entered the season of Lent, what shall we give up?
I mulled this over and thought about the term “to give up”.
Our relationship with God is a two way flow – yet much of our lives is spent thinking about how much we receive FROM God, rather than how much we give TO God.
Blessings flow down to us, but how much goes the other way?
How much do we give back to God?
So when we speak of “giving up” does it really mean abstinence from something?
If I abstain from something I normally enjoy, such as chocolate, wine, or watching television, what does that really say about me and what does it say to God?
It seems I am saying “I know these things are potentially harmful to ME or a waste of MY time, so temporarily I will stop them”.
Isn’t that thinking more about myself than thinking about God?
What would God want me to give up? Does God care if I eat chocolate?
Perhaps we have the term “giving up” all wrong.
Perhaps the answer is not about abstinence during Lent based on an idea of giving something up FOR God, but about give up something TO God.
Every Sunday we say to God “we offer ourselves to you as a living sacrifice”, but what does that really mean to us?
To me, this is a very confronting thing to say, because it means I am offering to put myself at God’s disposal, to be used as he wishes.
Not something I really feel I can consciously do at all times, but a worthy goal to aim for.
I think that is the ultimate sacrifice that we are asked to make as Christians – to give UP TO God.
Paul writes in Romans 12 that we should present our bodies as a living sacrifice, not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of our minds so that we can understand what it is that God finds good and what he wants us to do with all the blessings he give to us.
During Lent, as we contemplate the meanings of Easter, we learn again that the key to living is found in dying.
If you really want to live you must come to that place where you die – completely die out to your own will so that you can truthfully say, “From this point forth, not my will, but Thine be done.”
That is the key to real living.
To die out to my own selfish will and to say “For me, to live is to live in Christ.” The only way to live is to die.
So, rather than Lent being a time of self-control, we can look on it as a time of acknowledging God-control.
My challenge during Lent is to give up self-control and learn to allow God to be in control – giving up TO God.
It is customary, Lord
to give something up
during the season of Lent.
What would you have me do without?
I who have so much.
The list is endless
and I could give up all those things
for the span of 40 days
quite easily and almost painlessly.
But what difference would it make
other than making me feel ‘holier’
that my friend who makes no such sacrifice?
What would you have me do without?
I who have so much
I fear before I ask,
that the answer might be ‘yes’
and the giving up
would be all too real, Lord.
It would be difficult,
a real cross to carry for 40 days,
Thinking along these lines made me remember Matthew 22:15-22 – the passage about paying tax to Caesar.
“Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians.
“Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.” [Matthew 22:15-22]
The Pharisees aim was to trap Jesus into a rebellious reply.
Taxes during the time were levied on people who are not Roman citizens. The Israelites hated this. They hated Roman tax. They were anti-government. But they also know that it is lawful to obey authority – under the governing human laws.
The Herodians thought it was right to pay taxes. They were pro government. Pro Caesar.
That means whether Jesus gives a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, he would upset on side or the other. It seemed like a no win situation; a choice between two evils.
But Jesus confounded them by giving an extraordinary answer, an answer that we could never have thought of.
He answered with the obvious and yet the answer is also an elusive one.
Showing them a denarius, He simply asked: “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” and it was obvious who really owns the coin.
But why did Jesus have to add ‘and to God what is God’s’ – this is not really part of the question is it?
At first I thought Jesus was only trying to add God into the picture. But maybe Jesus was waiting for someone to ask “What is God’s?”
If he had been asked that, he would have answered “Where does God’s image lie?”
“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. “ – Genesis 1:27
Give to God that which is God’s. You owe Him yourself.
Father of all,
we give you thanks and praise
that when we were still far off
you met us in your Son and brought us home.
Dying and living, he declared your love,
gave us grace, and opened the gate of glory.
May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life;
we who drink his cup bring life to others;
we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.
Keep us in this hope that we have grasped;
so we and all your children shall be free,
and the whole earth live to praise your name.
I was created
I was given a purpose.
“Help the man”
But help him with what?
We live in paradise!
The man was told
about the tree.
I got it second hand,
“Death if you eat the fruit!”
An easy rule to follow –
Eat any delicious fruit but that.
I am created the chatty one
I will talk to anyone.
The man says little
Just “this shall be called…”
and “that shall be called”
No logic, discussion, conclusions.
Is this where my help is needed?
The serpent talks
Says more than the man.
He provokes my thoughts.
“Did God REALLY say this”
or “Really say that?”
I have only the hearsay.
God loves us
He made us perfect
He made a paradise
Where we live.
We want for nothing.
But I, I have an ordained purpose:
Help the man!
Help the man with what?
There is only one conundrum here.
It must be that!
Is this the help
God knows the man needs?
Am I to be
the first theologian?
To interpret God’s words
To explain the meaning
Knowing, as I do,
What he is like?
What is he like?
God is wonderful
He loves us
with all his heart
He wants only
whatever is good for us.
He can do us no harm.
For we are his own.
The words I heard
Are at odds
with what I know of God.
The serpent asks
“Did God say…?”
and I wonder
It makes no sense.
I had the feeling
when the man said
“Nor touch it”
that he was adding
some emphasis of his own.
I suspect he hadn’t understood.
The serpent thinks
God is hiding something.
Hiding this knowledge
of good and evil
That would make us
like God himself.
Would he do that?
How can I know?
I am his creature.
He loves me.
He created me.
I am part of him.
But would he be so,
well, miserly in his gifts?
God gives us everything
All we need
He denies us nothing
So why set a trap?
Is this the help
I am to give the man?
I think the man
Misunderstood the words.
The serpent is right.
God will not kill us
for touching a tree
And put in our path.
And if this fruit
is good for life
God will surely want us
to enjoy it
benefit from it.
Or else I don’t know
My loving God at all!
God is here
He knows all
He knows the chats we have.
If the reptile is wrong
If I am wrong
God will pop by
and gently tell us so.
I have a purpose.
I am to help the man.
Something God feels,
For whatever reason,
He has to delegate.
God made me fit for this purpose.
Gave me a brain to solve this riddle.
God saw that it was good.
If God is
Indeed a trickster
My help is needed more!
The man needs help
Is my help
To protect us from God?
Is that why God
created me as helper?
Is it possible
He loves us
But knowing his own nature
Suspects he will be tricky
and destroy us?
God loves us
He made us
In his image
Why then would he want
to deny us
a part of himself?
God made me helper
God gave me the gift
to think this through
and help the man
Who is too fearful.
The serpent is right.
Eat the fruit!
Our eyes will be opened.
I am the helper.
I will try it first
and help the man.
Oh, and the fruit is good!
Why did I doubt?
God made the fruit
Of course it is good!
I shall give some
to the man.
He knows I am his helper.
God made me to help him.
He trusts God
He trust me
Of course he eats!
Our eyes are opened
The reptile said we would.
Is this better
Than being dumb?
Well, we can’t go back.
So we must go on.
I say to the man
“God will be pleased”
But the man fears God.
Why, I cannot say.
I try to help.
I tell him
There is nothing to fear.
God loves us both.
The man knows
God sees us always.
Yet he tries to hide.
To disguise us
God is right
He really needs my help!
God finds us
Of course he does
He knows we ate the fruit.
The man dissembles.
Passes the buck.
But I am his helper.
So I explain to God.
“Your logic was tricky”
“The serpent fascinated me”
“It made sense”
I did as you asked
Did what I thought was right
in my role as helper
“You were right, God.
If was not good
for the man to be alone.
Your creation is good
you made me clever
you bade me help him
to pass this test.”
“You made a fruit
That would make us thinkers
and more like you.
You gave us choice.
We chose to eat.
We chose to be like you.
You should be pleased!”
Even as he curses us
He is secretly pleased.
But he won’t say it.
His creation is a success!
His creation can think!
His creation is wonder-filled!
We passed the test.
He sends us out
Into the world he made.
Knowing we will
His beloved children
Who he has raised
NOTE: For an interesting and insightful analysis of the meaning of the word “helper”, I recommend Marg Mowczko’s blog >>> http://margmowczko.com/a-suitable-helper/
“No-one puts children in a boat, unless the water is safer than the land”(1)
No-one risks their own child’s life. Is this so hard to understand?
Can you imagine what it takes, to make the choice to flee?
When the life you know is blown apart, and you face the perilous sea?
When the hand of the tiny child you grip, seems slippery in your own?
Cries “too tight , you are hurting me!”, but you will not let it go.
This tiny life, this enormous love, that trusts in you to know,
What’s right to do, when’s right to leave, and where on this earth to go?
Can you imagine?
Once more again, again, again
Warning! Attack reigns down!
Pernicious danger, hard to see!
Protection needed! Raise alarm!
The devil tries again to confound us,
He muddles and messes, behind the scenes
stealth is his weapon, gossip his tear gas
Sneaky devil! Sneaky means.
Corrupting good, weakening valour
leaching hope, inspiring spite,
voicing resent, voicing the boast
Snickering in his own delight
Tunnelling under the walls of trust
undermining what we thought solid
worming into self-serving egos
In darkest places, being squalid.
Yet, like old Job, we should be happy!
The devil would not waste his time
If our Godly work did not upset him.
For “If I err, the error is mine.”
Can we unite against the devil?
Or can we really only see
his work as it is done through people
and fight the people, and give him glee?
We readily see God in people
whenever we look to see the good,
Yet see only people in unkind people
Oh, the devil’s work is misunderstood!
You sneaky devil! I’ll not let you!
I’ll shine a light; expose the Truth!
You shall NOT undermine our goodness!
I’m telling on you! Expect reproof!
I smile a lot when I am depressed
My cheeks ache with exertion
I do it so that you won’t see
– My smile’s a diversion
I don’t want anyone’s attention
I know you cannot help me
I’m trapped inside my world of sad
I can’t escape from me
And so I smile and often laugh
Not wanting you to know
I feel a pain I can’t express
That has nowhere to go.
Just be my friend and understand
For help, I’ll never ask
But you can remind me now and then
That this too soon shall pass
Pat my hand and say you care
A hug works wonders too
Hold me tight and say a prayer
… I’ll do the same for you.
Once again I have foolishly cut the twine
Binding my heart to God and God to mine
Yet once again he proffers forth his end
Inviting me to to tie it up again.
left over right and under
One end in God’s hand, one in mine
Together we work hard to recombine
I know my sins will cut it every time
But always he will seek to re-entwine
left over right and under – right over left and through
And every time the thread is knotted tight
It gets a little shorter, as it might
Bringing me closer to God, until I see
It is also bringing God closer to me.
left over right and under – right over left and through
makes the knot stronger, tidy, tighter and true
I had it a moment ago and now it’s gone!
Am I mad? Am I blind? What’s going on?
Surely “What is hidden will be seen”
Or so it says in Luke eight seventeen,
So why then do I panic and call it “lost”?
And invest turgid emotion – to my cost.
When I know that everything will come out right,
And every missing thing, be brought to light.
For everyone who asks (we know) receives
And the one who seeks finds always what she needs.
So even though you knock upon the door
Until knuckles seem intolerably sore
It will be opened to you, if you stay calm.
No need to panic or to feel alarm.
The sage advice is to retrace your steps,
Whether missing concepts, people or objects.
Go back to where you were when last you saw
And gain a new perspective of that door.
A number of things have happened to me today
A number of things that caused me to lose my way
Until I was surrounded by blankets on a rocky shore
Convinced that God, like me, just loves a metaphor 🙂
I burnt my fingers holding up a mirror
And possibly it made some see things clearer
But some, not keen on seeing imperfection
Blamed the mirror holder, rather than the reflection.
I was distressed, regretting impulsive action
Thinking the mirror cracked to cause refraction
Until prayers showed me what I’d framed
And then I understood why I was blamed.
Friends warmed and cuddled me with their support
And allowed me space for clarity of thought.
And God was there, (obscure but clearly there)
Listening with patience to my prayer.
The gilded mirror emerged inside a dream
I was confused, not knowing what I’d seen
A crystal mirror on a rocky shore
A mirror that must be a metaphor.
When trying to describe how God is love
I’ve thought of snugly blankets from above.
So imagine my surprise at what I saw
When I opened to the knocking at my door!
Sharon and Bella standing there with fancy
Blankets made with love by lovely Nancy.
Nancy, I woman I’ve never met
But who taught me something I’ll never forget.
She makes blankets that she gives away for free
To warm a cooling heart or arthritic knee.
She doesn’t even know me, and much less
She will never know who’s getting her kindness.
God is moving in his mysterious ways today
God is certainly hearing me when I sink to pray
And answering me forever in metaphor
As he brings a pile of blankets to my door!
For Nancy, Sharon, Bella, Libby, Vee, Jackie and Sandie,
with my love and thanks