Ready, Set, Lent. Why it matters – more than ever.

“And early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” Mark 1:35

I’m ready for Lent.

Because Lent is a time of “retreating into the wilderness with Jesus”, I say bring it on.

I’m embarrassed by what Christianity is becoming in the west:

Individualism is touted, at the expense of deeply committed community, through rap and poetry about love for Jesus, but hatred for religion, failing to mention that in spite of the church’s colossal failures over the centuries, it has been the church working together, rather than “spiritual individuals”, that’s ended slavery, cared for the poor and marginalized, advocated for justice, strengthened marriages, and fanned the flames of the renaissance which allowed art and science to flourish.

Authoritarianism in the church is debated, with the primary voices seeming to advocate for either no accountability whatsoever, or total control.  It’s a great debate.  It generates lots of conversation on the internet.  It elevates dysfunction to the limelight.  And it distracts people, I fear, from reading their Bibles, praying, loving their neighbors, and enjoying intimacy with Jesus.

We Christians seem to spend more time online not liking each other, than encouraging each other by talking about the matchless beauty of Christ and His reign.  Christians are hurling doctrinal grenades at one another, with more explosive charges than I’ve noticed in the past.  Again, we seem to love this because of the readership generated by controversy.  Sure, we need to have conversations about what constitutes orthodoxy, and whether gay marriage is a good or bad idea, and the merits of Reformed and/or Anabaptist theology, so please don’t misread.  We need these conversations. It’s the proportion of these conversations that bothers me.  We’re saturated in the side show to such an extent that the primacy of loving Jesus and one’s neighbor is lost in the screaming.

My best preparation for Lent is the super bowl.  After all, the super bowl is ultimately a game of football.  But increasingly, the football game is sort of a side show, a post script, to the ads, the halftime show, the parties, the food, the blogs about the ads, the blogs about the halftime show, the 3 day pregame show on TV with all the heart wrenching stories, and back stories, and human interest stories, the post-game show, the parade, and of course, the finger.

Really?  It’s as if the teams are incidental.  The game is lost in the billion dollar carnival.  Those of us who genuinely enjoy pass patterns and blocking schemes would much rather watch a good high school or Division II college game in October because their pursuits are closer to the real deal.   The super bowl reminds me of how easily we’re distracted from the game.

This winter, the evangelical world has felt a bit like the super bowl.  Saturated with glamor, hot shots, pot shots, back stories, in-fighting, trash talking, and uber-advertising (you should see my senior pastor “inbox”), I’m sick of it all — and praying about how to meet Jesus in the wilderness for forty days as a way of purging my soul from all that causes unbelievers to post the bumper sticker:  “Jesus save me – from your followers”

I’ll be writing throughout Lent – from my encounters with Christ in creation, and the Bible, and people.  I won’t be writing about church politics, or American politics, or hot controversial topics like sexual ethics, gay marriage, global warming, church growth, the glories or evils of Neo-Calvinism, or any other conversation generating topic.  For Lent, I’m fasting from writing about anything other Christ: where I’m meeting Him and what He’s teaching me.

But I’m taking a break from both theological, political, controversy and church leadership topics, so that, after Easter, I’ll be able to engage again with a less cynical and jaded spirit.   I want to have some good conversations about gay marriage, presidential politics, sexual ethics, church health, consumerism in Christianity, and hope to write about these things throughout the spring.  But not now.  I’m heading, metaphorically, to the desert with Jesus.  I encourage you to do the same thing… or something similar.

 

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • erika

    these are great points because i think some Christians – myself included- find it easier to blame the church for everything–including our own sin.

    It’s harder to turn to Jesus and see and work through our own failings, but it’s something we need to do.

  • http://orchardcommunity.blogspot.com Keith Seckel

    Sadly, it is not only unbelievers who post that bumper sticker “Jesus save me — from your followers”. I feel the same way sometimes!

  • http://www.stuffofwonder.com Bo

    Here, here, Richard.

    I’m excited to be starting a new job at a new church right as Lent comes calling. What better reminder of the depth of devotion to call a community of believers to – a quiet, reflective journey into the wilderness rather than some showy, bombastic program launch. May your writings this season be a blessing to us all. Peace.

  • http://theelvesareheadingwest.blogspot.com/ Eric

    Thanks for yet another thoughtful post, Richard

    I echo many of these sentiments
    Watching form afar (New Zealand) it Does seem that American blogs in particular seem to be places of less than gracious encounters between brothers ans sisters in Christ, but that MAY WELL be blindness to my own faults and failings :)

    I think in a sense that retreat to the Essence of faith – the LIFE of Christ is the way we must all pass if we are to find our true unity once more

    I think the counsel of old from both the Scriptures and the Church fathers on being slow to speak is very much ignored nowadays and of course the internet / blogosphere etc. just tempts those of us prone to go on and on :)

    So I’ll stop
    Praying for your ‘Retreat’

    Grace and Peace to you

  • sarah

    Thought you might be interested in reading a brief follow-up article on the young man who posted the Jesus/Religion video–he seems like a humble individual open to constructive criticism and feedback on his message:

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2012/01/14/following-up-on-the-jesusreligion-video/

  • ryan

    richard i love your blog, continue continue!

  • david

    in regards to your point about christianity ending slavery – there are more slaves today than at any time in history. it’s not over. and unfortunately even the books of timothy and luke condone slavery. so i can’t agree with you on that point.

    also to your point of christianity fanning the flames of the renaissance. sure, the catholic church did fund much of the art and built great cathedrals – paid for with indulgences (those were fun) – which of course martin luther then wrote the 95 thesis about. so religion was a big part of the renaissance, but it was also changing a lot during that time. science was also a major part of it – and as you know the catholic church had major problems with that, even putting galileo under house arrest and banning his works.

    i’m very interested in your views on gay marriage.

  • Graham

    With regard to the Jesus/Religion video: Doesn’t Boenhoffer talk about “religionless Christianity” alot?

  • Sarah

    I love the thoughts here, but I have a question. It seems as though in the communication of frustration with the pot shots that different churches or religious organizations or individuals will take at each other, we may have just taken one at this young man and his spoken word ministry. Am I interpreting your thoughts incorrectly? He even mentions in the video that he loves church, but hates religion. I thought that lined up with your post quite nicely.


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