1st Lenten Weekly Challenge

26 02 2007

Journeying With Jesus Toward the Cross.

The idea of the journey is fundamental to the Christian faith. From the time that God called Abraham and Sarah and commanded them to “Leave your country and your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (Gen 12:1) people of faith have journeyed both physically and spiritually toward a deeper understanding of God. In the Middle Ages Christians were encouraged to make pilgrimages to special holy places called shrines. It was believed that if you prayed at these shrines you might be forgiven for your sins and have more chance of going to heaven. Others went to shrines hoping to be cured from an illness they were suffering from.
If you were rich enough, too busy or just plain lazy you could go on pilgrimage by proxy, paying some other person to endure the hardships for you. Amazingly this service is still available today. For anyone who has vowed to make the pilgrimage to Fatima in Portugal which is famous for religious visions but can’t fulfill their promise, help is at hand — rent-a-pilgrim. For about $2,500 Pilgrim Gil will make the journey in your place — and send you a certificate stamped along the way to prove he walked your every step.1

Journeying or peregrinatio from which we get the English word pilgrimage was also basic to Celtic Christianity. Believers often left home and loved ones with no specific physical destination in mind but rather on an inner journey to find Christ. They believed their home was not this world, but the heavenly Jerusalem, toward which all of life moves us. They saw themselves as “guests of the world”. Every experience encountered and every activity undertaken on the way was an opportunity to meet or to represent Christ.

A Journey Into Wholeness
At the center of God’s vision for the future is a wonderful dream of a world in which all of creation is restored to the wholeness and harmony of relationships that were broken through the disruption of the Fall. God looks forward to the day when all people are restored physically, emotionally and spiritually. God’s dream is that we live and work together in harmony and mutual trust, caring for the earth and relating personally to our loving Creator.
To be a disciple of Christ means to grab hold of this vision and make it the destination for our life journey. We deliberately choose to lay down our own self-centered lives and consciously live each moment journeying towards God’s presence and towards a life that is fully integrated with God’s will for restoration and wholeness. The Holy Spirit is constantly at work in us breaking down the barriers that distort our ability to lead a life that is fully integrated with God’s purposes.
According to Henri Nouwen, “Discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God – a time and place where God’s gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to.”2 This is the kind of discipline we all need in order to mature into the people God wants us to be.

A Journey into Lent
Lent, those days before Easter that commemorate the 40 days Jesus spent out in the wilderness before his ministry began, invites us to contemplate our own Christian journey and consider the disciplines we need to become whole. How can we deepen our relationship to God as we meet with and represent Christ through our words and action?
Many of us are unfamiliar with the practice of Lent though its observance is gaining popularity in all kinds of churches from Baptist to Pentecostal. Those of us who do acknowledge it tend to think of Lent as a time to give up some non essential food item like chocolate or activities such as watching TV. Some of us fast for a day or two and get a warm glow of satisfaction because of our sacrifice but these observances make little if any difference to the ongoing journey of our lives.
Lent is not really about sacrifice or deprivation. In the early church this was a time of preparation for those about to be baptized. Today it is more often regarded as a season of soul searching and repentance for all Christians as a preparation for the joy and celebration of Easter. Unfortunately for many of us our soul searching is as perfunctory as our sacrifices. We spend a little more time reading the bible and in prayer. Some of us spend a few hours working with a local mission we are concerned about but otherwise our lives are unchanged and after Easter there is very little to show for our commitment.
During Lent this year we would like to invite you to join us on a journey with Jesus towards the Cross, a journey that we hope will change our lives forever. We want to challenge you to set aside time to deepen your relationship with God by entering the brokenness of our world. Allow yourself to encounter Christ as you reflect on all the aspects of your life and of our world that distort your ability to live as effective representatives of God and God’s kingdom.
When humankind was separated from God at the Fall it was not just our relationship to God that was distorted and broken. Our relationship to each other, our stewardship of the earth and even our inner being, were all broken or distorted by sin. Our journey toward the Cross should encourage us to confront all these areas of brokenness and lead us to a place of healing and wholeness.

Enter the Weekly Challenge

Over the six weeks of Lent as we journey with Christ toward the cross we want to examine these areas of brokenness and explore how we can move closer to God and more effectively be God’s hands of healing and wholeness. Our journey will begin with an exploration of the barriers within ourselves that resist God’s will. Selfishness, fear, feelings of abandonment and our inability to trust that God really loves us all separate us from God and the life that God wants for us.
In the second and third weeks we will confront some of the barriers that separate us from other human beings. Lack of forgiveness, the desire to control, greed, indifference to the suffering of others all distort our relationships to those with whom we share this planet.

In the fourth week we will explore barriers that separate us from God’s creation. Lack of proper stewardship, over-consumption and a lack of respect for what God has made all destroy our relationship to God’s creation.

In the fifth week of Lent we will confront some of the barriers that isolate us from other parts of God’s family because of lack of unity between believers with different theological perspectives. Independence, the desire to “do it my way” and lack of unity with fellow believer are all barriers to a mature relationship with God. Holy week, the last week of Lent will focus on Jesus own walk toward the cross and the brokenness he willing endured to set us free.
It is not surprising that in a culture like ours that craves comfort and ease, few people practice fasting and self sacrifice during Lent anymore. Deliberately walking with Christ towards the Cross is very costly. In fact it demands our whole life. But we pray that this year will be different. As we journey this year towards the Cross may we walk towards a deeper commitment to God. In the words of the apostle Paul “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12: 1-3)

Accept the Challenge
Discipline is a word that hearkens back to our childhood, or to the machinations of those in our lives who want us to conform to certain behaviors or to the needed requirement for developing ‘character.’ Actually, the word is grounded in the word disciple, which means a ‘learner.’ Discipline can become for us a way to encounter new learnings about ourselves and to actively engage in extracting from those learnings insights that can deepen our understanding of life and spirit. Lent invites us to re-enter the school of life and be discipled in the endless possibilities for growth.3
This Lenten guide is designed to take you each week on a journey into a different aspect of the brokenness of God’s world so that you can become an instrument of God’s healing and restoration. As we prepare for this Lenten season together there are several disciplines you may want to consider that will facilitate your journey.

  • This journey is not meant to be travelled alone – plan to begin each week with a group meeting with a spouse or friends. Look at your schedule for the six weeks of Lent. What do you need to give up over this period in order to make meetings possible? These times together are an important part of your journey. Plan a simple (soup & bread) meal as part of your community discipline. Give a different person responsibility for the meal each week. Allow time to discuss your struggles and plan your week’s activities. Send time praying for each other and also for those who are less fortunate in our world.
  • Set aside time each day for solitary reflection. Buy a new journal specifically to reflect on your Lenten journey. Each day read through the scripture designated for the week. Which verse stands out for you? Read this verse aloud several times. Then spend time in quiet reflection. What is God saying to you through this verse? Write down any reflections, thoughts, & prayers that come out of your time.
  • Purchase a book of Lenten reflections to read each day as part of your discipline. One of my favourites is Lent and Easter: Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen, compiled by Judy Bauer. Alternatively you may like to read a book such as Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan with your spouse or a friend.
  • Find an Ash Wednesday service to attend on February 21st as the first act of your Lenten journey. Lent for Western Christians begins with Ash Wednesday, a day for penitence to clean the soul before the Lent fast. Roman Catholic, Anglican, and some other churches hold special services at which worshippers are marked with ashes as a symbol of death, and sorrow for sin. In Ash Wednesday services churchgoers are marked on the forehead with a cross of ashes as a sign of penitence and mortality. The minister or priest marks each worshipper on the forehead, and says “remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return”, or a similar phrase based on God’s sentence on Adam in Genesis 3:19. At some churches worshippers leave with the mark still on their forehead so that they carry the sign of the cross out into the world. At others the service ends with the ashes being washed off as a sign that the participants have been cleansed of their sins.
  • Take time to visit our blog each week www.mustardseedjourney.wordpress.com Check out the new liturgies and resources that have been added. Share your own reflections, photos, comments and struggles.




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