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When Lenten Traditions Miss the Point

Whether you splurged on Fat Tuesday, observed Ash Wednesday, or vowed to live without a particular food, drink or bad habit for the next 40 days, Lent began this week. It’s the period in the church calendar commemorating Jesus Christ’s temptation by the devil in the wilderness, his subsequent crucifixion, and the celebration of his glorious resurrection.

But what if the focus on all of the secular activities distracts us (and non-Christians too) from understanding the real relevance of what a life surrendered to Jesus means? People think of living a surrendered life in terms of sacrificing something during Lent, or moral purity or having to go to church every Sunday.

Now, a surrendered life can include those things, but they can also cause us to miss the point. Lent is not merely about surrendering to lists of do’s and don’ts, to mere moralism, to religion. If that were the case, then Christianity would be no better than an ethical system of right versus wrong. Christianity is not a philosophy of behavior modification. When people think it is, and act like it is, it leads to some people feeling pretty good about themselves, and everybody else so turned off that they wouldn’t touch Christianity and the church if their lives depended on it.

But what if surrender had a good connotation? Like surrendering to love, or surrendering your guilt and shame? In that sense, surrender is a good thing. When I surrender something bad, I’m letting go.

And this is exactly what Jesus was teaching in Matthew 16: “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?’” (Matthew 16:24-26, ESV)

So, what does living a life of surrender look like, not just during Lent? In the passage above, the emphasis is on the Person you’re following, not the cross you’re bearing. Denying yourself (submission) and taking up your cross are not ends unto themselves. They are means to the end. The end is following Jesus. The point is following Jesus. We are submitting to a Person, not a thing, not an ideology, not theology, not a religion, not moralism.

When we submit to Jesus, it’s because we want to come after him. We want to follow him. We are so grateful for his love and how he has rescued us from the clutches of sin and a life of pain, that we willingly surrender to him.  And when we do that, we’re on the path to freedom. It all boils down to this—what’s the destination of the road you’re on? What’s the end game?

It’s not, “Join Jesus’ team, and you’ll be healthy, wealthy and wise.” Here’s the message: follow Jesus, and your life will never be the same. You will have a purpose in your life to help change the world, and the more you take the focus off your centered self and put it on what Jesus calls you to be and do, you will find the peace that surpasses all understanding. Actually, that peace will find you.

Posted by Rick Grover, Lead Pastor with

When the Winner is Actually the Loser

Have you ever played the game called “Compare”? Here’s how it’s played. You live in a decent home, but it’s nothing like John’s. You drive an okay car, but you wish you had one like Susan. You’re pretty happy with your job, but if you had a job like Martha, then you’d really be content.  

There’s only one rule to the game: Always compare yourself to “more” and never to “less.” Preachers play this game by comparing their church to the one with more members. Business leaders play by comparing their income level to a friend with more money. Moms play by comparing themselves to other moms who seem to have more motherly skills or more ability to keep the house clean, cook delicious meals, and help with the kids’ homework—all at the same time.

The winner of the game is the one who wastes the most time and energy on wishing life was better, resulting in exhaustion, discontentment, and discouragement. The winner of the game actually turns out to be the loser in life.

I find myself playing this game every time I listen to someone else preach, and I say, “Wow, I wish I could preach like that.” Or I read someone’s book, and I think, I could never write like that—so profound and inspirational. I play the game well. I never compare the size of the church I serve to a smaller one down the road. I never compare my writing skill to someone who has never written a word in his life. My problem—and maybe this is yours as well—is that I find myself winning at the game and losing at life.

Heed the words of this wise counsel from John Calvin. In order to protect ourselves from our anxieties, misguided cravings, and misplaced comparisons, we need to accept that we all have our “own kind of living assigned to [us] by the Lord as a sort of sentry post, so that [we] may not heedlessly wander about throughout life” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.3.10).

Sometimes it’s hard not to look at someone else’s life and wish it were yours. It’s difficult to find contentment in “our kind of living assigned by the Lord.” Faithfulness to your calling leads to contentment in your living. We all need these “sentry posts” to help us stay anchored—not chained—to living in our boat and not wishing we were in someone else’s.

Your current calling may not be your final destination. It may be that God is leading you to a new assignment. Contentment is not complacency; it is finding peace in your circumstances while always seeking the God who makes all things new.

Stop comparing and start completing. Make it your aim to complete your assignment and not worry about the assignments of others. Grow where you’re planted. For God’s purposes, He has you where you are for now. Since He gave you your assignment, then your work must matter to Him. That means you have “mattering work” to do right where you are. Stop being restless and naively imagining that if you had someone else’s assignment, you would be happier or more significant. Your work matters to God, so fulfill your work as unto the Lord and stop playing the “Compare” game. If you win the game, you lose at life.

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11b).

Posted by Rick Grover, Lead Pastor with

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