Even though I’m not Catholic, I took up the practice of Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter that begins with Ash Wednesday) many years ago. This is a great invitation to reflect on and prepare our hearts for the awareness of the ultimate and tremendous sacrifice by God the Father and God the Son that crashes into our story during Holy Week. The idea is that we should fast from something during this time. This could be a particular kind of food (chocolate?) or activity (watching TV), etc. It’s up to each individual to choose what to give up.
Although I have to confess I haven’t always been great about this, the idea is that whenever you consider partaking in whatever you gave up for Lent, you are to use this as a reminder of the coming sacrifice that Jesus made for us. For whatever reason, though, this year has been different for me. I have been more mindful of that, and thinking of my small sacrifice has led me to reflect more about the huge sacrifice Jesus made for me.
And here’s the thing I have come to realize: this holy exchange, as well as every exchange I make with God, is always a better deal for me than it is for God.
We’ll ponder the ultimate exchange–my sin for the righteousness of Christ–as we get closer to Easter, so for now I want to focus on this idea: shrouded in the darkness of this age, people who are not yet followers of Christ (and even some who are) tend to think about church and Christianity in terms of what you have to give up: lying, cheating, stealing, murder. These may be easy enough to avoid, but what about swearing? Some would also add gambling, dancing, certain kinds of music, dressing in a certain way, but I’m not convinced there’s a biblical foundation for these.
Anyway, the point is, when you focus on negatives like this, you miss the big picture. The Bible isn’t a rule book, it’s a love story. God wants us to be in relationship with him. The things He asks us to avoid are not healthy for any relationship. If I lied to or cheated on my wife, those actions would not be healthy for our relationship.
Also, as for most (if not all) of the other rules found in the Bible, God gave them to His people to form them into His people. If you’re reading through the Bible in a year, you’ve probably reached the part in the story of the Israelites where they were wandering in the wilderness on their way to the promised land. He gave Moses the 10 Commandments and other rules to give to the people so He could create a culture for His people that was unlike anything man had dreamed up. He created boundaries to protect their health as they moved through the wilderness since they couldn’t just pop over to a nearby pharmacy or Emergency Room if they got ill.
If I turn my attention away from the negative of what I have to “give up” and instead focus on the positive of what it means to be in relationship with God, here’s what I get in return: I get an assurance that no matter what happens to me in this life, I know I will spend eternity in paradise with my Creator and all of my loved ones who are or become followers of Christ. I get a deep-rooted peace that surpasses all understanding–shalom–even as I navigate the often turbulent waters of this life. I get the gift of appreciating people for who they are–sons and daughters of God–instead of what they can or can’t do for me, or any other sub-optimal way of viewing people. I could go on and on, but I’m trying to keep my posts brief.
So what’s the bottom line? We all should be glad to make holy exchanges with God since we always receive more from Him than we have to give up to be in relationship with Him. Thanks be to God, from whom all blessings flow!