By Byron Townsend
Editor’s Note: Byron Townsend, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, is leading his church family through a series of Lenten devotions. Lent runs this year from March 9 through April 24, Easter Sunday. This installment of Geaux Therefore has been adapted from Grace Church’s first Lenten devotional.
Spring Cleaning for the Church
Lent season is a built-in “spring cleaning” season of the Church. The word Lent comes from the Middle English word lente, meaning “spring.” Also, the word lenten means “lengthening,” a term used to describe the days becoming longer. As the trees and plants use springtime to recover from wintry death, so Christians use Lent season to recover from being in a spiritual rut. We examine, fertilize and prune the “fruit” of our heart. Of course, the Holy Spirit does the examining and pruning. Our part is found in “work our your salvation with fear and trembling.” The increasing awareness of our selfishness (sin) is painful, but as Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
‘Tis the Season
The Church calendar is divided into different seasons. The most common are Advent, Christmas, Lenten and Easter. The Church calendar is a great educational and devotional tool that provides a balanced spiritual diet for Christ-followers. For instance, during the year we:
(1) reflect upon and worship the God who delivers His people (Advent)
(2) celebrate that God has become human (Christmas)
(3) confess, repent and renew ourselves to God’s mission (Lent)
(4) celebrate the Resurrection and our role in God’s mission (Easter)
Fasting & Feasting
Beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on the Saturday before Easter Sunday, Lent season is 40 days long. The 40 days correlate with the 40 days of temptation, prayer, fasting and preparation Jesus endured (as found in Matthew 4). Lent is commonly known as a time when – in remembering our Lord’s fast – we fast or “give-up” an activity, food or drink. The purpose is not just to abstain, but to direct the desire normally reserved for that activity, food or drink toward communion in Christ. Sitting quietly in His presence. Listening to His voice. Examining ourselves. Confessing sin. Repenting of sin. Renewing our lives to following Him. Worshiping Jesus.
The six Sundays are known as the Sundays in Lent. They do not count towards the 40 days. Sundays are a feast day, a day that Christians have been celebrating ever since the Sunday Resurrection of Jesus. If you are fasting from an activity, food or beverage during Lent, feel free to enjoy it on Sunday. You will find that as a result of your increased enjoyment of Jesus – the Eternal King – your delight in that temporary thing will be more meaningful.
Last year, I fasted from coffee. Because my body was accustomed to a daily (over)dose of caffeine, I endured an initial two or three days of painful headaches. I was able to use those headaches as a vehicle to contemplate the pain Jesus endured while on earth, ultimately being damned by God, bearing wrath for my sin – what a Savior! The six best cups of coffee I drank last year were on the Sundays in Lent. It wasn’t just a caffeine fix, it was an act that stirred my affections for Christ.
We Learn To Live When We Learn To Die
Traditionally, these 40 weekdays were used as a time of preparation for baptism candidates. The candidates would spend time in prayer and devotion, preparing to make their public confession of faith in Jesus. As the Scriptures teach, baptism symbolizes death – “Buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life.”
Eventually this time of preparation spread to those who had already made a public confession of faith in Christ. Hence it is also our 40 day journey into the wilderness, preparing ourselves for confession, repentance and renewal to God’s mission. We will end our journey at the bloody Cross upon which Jesus died. We will discover that life is found in death. Jesus said “you will not find your life until you lose your life for My sake.” Good Friday is a dark day. It is a difficult day. It is a day of death. It should have been my death. Instead, it was His death caused by my sin.
But through His death, Jesus lives. The Resurrection has occurred! The grave has been conquered! Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow. With each passing day, the death of death becomes closer. In our earthly sojourn, we must die in Christ’s death in order to find life in Christ’s Resurrection. There is no Resurrection without a Cross.
It is impossible to fully celebrate the joy of Easter Sunday until we have fully embraced the reality of Good Friday.
The question to answer today is this: What thing (activity, attitude, food or drink) stirs my affections more deeply than my affections for Jesus?
For a more detailed understanding of the Church year, check out http://www.crivoice.org/chyear.html. Grace Baptist Church is located at 630 Richland Avenue, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70806. Follow Grace Church on Twitter @GraceBatonRouge.