The Meaning of Lent

It’s that time of year again — Lent. The time of year when Christians all over the world stop eating chocolate or swearing or something of the like. For the life of me I haven’t been able to decipher giving something up for Lent and a New Years resolution except that one is for Jesus. And yet we all, myself included, think each year about which to give up for Lent. I guess 40 days is a lot less intimidating than 365.

In the midst of preparing for Lent, I received an e-mail that has the Japanese word for Lent as it’s posted above. The word for Lent in Japanese is jyunansetsu. It is made up of three kanji (pictures that symbolize words or parts of words). The first kanji means “to accept,” the second means “hardship,” and the third means “a period of time.”

Together, in Japanese, Lent means to accept hardship for a period of time.

Maybe this is the heart of our Lent resolutions. Hardship is… well, it’s hard. So perhaps we resort to New Years resolution-type Lent disciplines as a distraction away from the things that are really hard in life, not that it is easy to give up chocolate or soda. But to really stand face-to-face with the hardships of life is uncomfortable for everyone.

We came face to face with death yesterday in hearing the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This reminder can be the hardship we take on. Lent constantly brings us next to our mortality.

And then, after 40 days of living next door to death, we hear the incredible news that the tomb is empty and the death has been defeated by love. This is the most important part of the meaning of Lent. We accept hardship… but only for a period of time. At the end of which we celebrate the wonder of the resurrection.



Small Efforts and Big Results

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

There’s a great video I caught at a great blog that I’ve been reading more and more lately. I think it speaks to the power of small efforts to produce a greater picture. In this case, it’s with a piece of art, but I think it can be true with anything we do, really.

It really speaks to those of us who value creativity in our fields. A lot of times it can feel like we don’t get a lot done, the to-do pile is always growing higher, and we’ll never cross that last thing off of the list. But this speaks to the value of small calculated efforts to help create a wonderful bigger picture.

The video is only a couple minutes long. It blew me away the first time I saw it. Check it out!



So what small step are you going to do today to impact your life? Vocation? Ministry?

It’s those small things really do wind up mattering most.


Shane Hipps on Rob Bell Leaving Mars Hill

Last night I saw that Shane Hipps, teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI posted some thoughts on Rob Bell’s departure from the church. There were some thoughts that were very poignant for pastors and leaders in every profession.

He writes,

I learned when I became a pastor that it is a unique vocation.  Becoming a leader in any profession can be a lonely experience.  This isn’t always bad, in many ways it forces you to grow up fast.  In time you learn to allow the loneliness to become a divine ingredient in cultivating depth and resilience. Over the years I learned to befriend it as a teacher.  And as I’ve said here before, there is a difference between being alone, and being lonely.

It’s a really great reflection. I’d encourage everyone to read it. You can find it here.


How to Make 2012 Your Year of Focus

That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex… But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. – Steve Jobs

My New Years resolution is all about focus. I was reading a bit in the Gospel of John about Jesus being the vine and us as the branches. I think what’s so interesting about that way of talking about the relationship between the two is that it’s only in pruning the branches that they can grow. This works for you, individually. It can work for your ministry, business, website.

Focus is all about finding some of the branches in our life that we can prune back in order to focus on some of the more important and significant branches of our life. When we truly examine and take a look at what really matters, we can re-focus and enable us to grow far past where they are now.

Here are four steps to re-gaining your focus and have your best year yet! (Not in a Joel Osteen kind of way… gross)

1. Don’t multi-task. Is it really better to get a lot of things done poorly than a few things done well?  Multi-tasking doesn’t work. It only offers distraction. If you’re going to do something, do that until it’s done. Then move on. Multi-tasking is inefficient, stressful and pretty disrespectful if one of the tasks you’re doing is speaking to someone. Don’t do it.

2. Group e-mail check times to twice per day (3 times max). There is nothing that kills the momentum of a productive period of time than getting online and checking e-mail or Facebook. On my better days, I check e-mail once right when I get to the office to get back to anything urgent, once just after lunch and once more just before I leave the office. If you can group the times you check e-mail and other non-productive tasks, that opens up your day immensely to do #3.

3. Pick 2 or 3 primary tasks to do each day. This goes along with #1. At the start of the day, list everything that must be done in the next week. Then pick 2 or 3 things that you can do that day and focus on doing those. These are the things that have to get done at all costs. Your day is successful if you complete these few things.

4. Take periodic breaks and reward yourself. After you finish one of your tasks on the day, or when you get to a good break point, stand up and take a little break. Go for a walk. Re-fill the coffee. Whenever I’m out at our Gold Canyon campus working on a sermon I’ll head out to the fountain and look out at the foothills. Take a few deep breaths and just clear my head.

Get these things done each day and that will free up your afternoons and evenings not to worry about e-mail or the tasks that got left undone. But to take a walk. Go to a movie. Grill out. Take up a new hobby.

With these steps, you’ll get more done in a day or week than you ever have before. You’ll prune back the branches so that you can grow beyond your wildest imagination.

What are some things that help you focus? What are some of the things that make you procrastinate? Share them in the comments section so we can all get a wider picture at just how many things distract us from our focus.


What We Have Gotten Wrong About Faith

“What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket,
when of course it is the cross.” – Flannery O’Connor

I was in Barnes and Noble last night perusing the Christmas deals (like ya do) and I went to the “Christian Inspiration” display table set apart from the rest of the religious books as the “bestsellers”. There was the typical Joel Osteen, Beth Moore, Joyce Meyers on the front side and then around back was all kinds of paraphernalia for this book Heaven is For Real. Now, admittedly, I have only read the first chapter of it (as that is all I could get for free on my Kindle).

This kind of emotive faith doesn’t do much for me. It seems to only offer comfort to the comforted. We focus so much on the afterlife that we neglect to do the work of God in this life. Any faith that doesn’t say “Take up your cross and follow me” isn’t anything I want to be a part of. We think of following Jesus only in our expectation of the still waters and green pastures of Psalm 23. We fail to realize that if we actually follow Jesus, it will be far less comfortable than that.

Now, far be it for me to equate a person’s faith life with the types of books they read, but I think it certainly impacts it. You are what you read. By all means, if you are afflicted and need comfort, read something that will give you comfort. I’m not that sadistic. But for a lot of us, myself included, our faith only grows by being pushed and stretched. I doubt reading Heaven is For Real or Every Day a Friday really pushes you beyond the call to simply have more faith.

For a lot of us, the answer to a lot of life’s (more troubling) questions isn’t “if God brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it”. But the answer to many of life’s questions can be found in the ancient command to “take up your cross and follow me.”


*I don’t mean any offense to people who have read Heaven is for Real and found a lot of encouragement in it. I’m sure it’s a very encouraging book. I only say what I say because I think we can do better.

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