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Lent begins

March 9, 2011

We dug this out of the archives as today is Ash Wednesday and begins the season of Lent. It’s also been one of my top posts in the last year. So as we dive into the Lenten season, I hope these thoughts inform your next journey to Resurrection Sunday.

Aidan: Mike, we were talking some and you mentioned it might be appropriate to spend a little time thinking about the season of Lent.

Mike: Right. After all, I spent how long in the Anglican church? Lent is one of those things that’s just engrained in you. And actually I think that’s a good thing if we understand Lent for what it is. I’m not always sure we get it. Sometimes I think we approach it as the 40-some odd days we are supposed to give something up and that’s it.

Aidan: Where do you think we might miss the point?

Mike: Well Lent is really all about Identity, that’s not terribly hard to see. This period of 40 days is to engage and almost re-enact Jesus’ 40 Days in the Wilderness and the Temptations he had to face. And when you get into it, this was about Identity. Just look at the first two temptations…”If you are the Son of God, then do ________.” That’s a direct threat to the Identity of Jesus as his Father’s son…the Tempter is trying to make him prove his Identity and the thing with the Father is that our Identity is freely given. We’re his kids, we simply can’t earn that. How can Jesus prove that?

Aidan: Why do think the Tempter was so keen on going after Jesus’ Identity?

Mike: Well how do Americans put it…if the Tempter gets Jesus’ Identity, well, that’s the ballgame! He knows that Jesus’ Identity is the source of his Authority and Power. If he is able to shake that Identity, the ramifications are massive. Jesus gets his Authority and ability to exercise Power from being his Father’s Son. If that’s shaken or not lived out of, the authority and power are gone!

Aidan: So how do you see this playing out in a way that’s practical for us in Lent?

Mike: Lent is a Season of Repentance…but not repentance in the way we understand it a lot of times. Repentance, Metanoia, in Greek really means an inner change of the heart. In Hebrew it’s the word Teshuva, which means “to return home.” What a beautiful picture, isn’t?! So to understand repentance, it is about re-orienting our hearts towards God…towards home! So what we are looking at in Lent is this: More than likely this past year your Identity has taken some specific hits and it’s paramount that we re-orient our hearts home, that we place all of our Identity in our Father’s loving care. Lent gives us the space to examine and explore this.

Aidan: What would be some helpful, practical ways we can do this?

Mike: I don’t think you have to look much further than the Temptations. The Tempter goes at Jesus in three different ways and I think our enemy uses very similar advances:
1) Appetite
2) Affirmation/Attention
3) Ambition

Aidan: Very nice alliteration there!

Mike: Can’t imagine I’d be a proper Englishman without alliteration!

But just look at these.

Appetite is very much like a child…it’s always clambering for attention. It’s about what our body or mind craves in a way that says: I don’t trust that my Father can give me a good life, I don’t trust the Identity he has for me. But I think this craving, this Appetite, at this moment, will give me what I want since I’m not sure my Father will. As you can see Appetite is often about control. And this can be any number of things. Sex, food, obsessive body image issues that force us to the gym, TV, internet/Facebook. What do you crave in a way that controls you?

Aidan: So if that was the way the Tempter is going after us, what would a Lenten response look like?

Mike: I say go with the ancient response: If you say no to one Appetite you can say no to another. Dallas Willard puts it this way: “Do the things you can so you can do the things you can’t.”

In other words, go at it indirectly. Learn to use your will to give something up so that the door of your heart are crowbarred open just enough so God’s Spirit will give you His power over the other Appetite.

Obviously this is where the tradition of giving something up for Lent began.

Aidan: What about the other two? What about for Affirmation/Attention?

Mike: Right. I think this is an easy one to understand. Our Identity has to come from somewhere outside of us. And it can be easy to seek the approval of others in lots of ways and let what they say dictate how we see ourselves…as either someone who is worth something or someone who isn’t. So instead of resting and being confidant as our Father’s child, which is an unshakable reality…we look for quick hits of Affirmation. There are plenty of ways we do this. Asking someone what they think of us when we already know the response, putting ourselves in places only so they praise us, doing something for the sole reason of someone saying we did a good job or to think we’re someone special. It creeps up everywhere in our lives.

Aidan: So what would the Lenten response be for this one?

Mike: What we have to understand is the Tempter will use the addictive process of Affirmation to cripple us. We want to live for our Father’s smile by being obedient, not in people telling me how wonderful I am. So you have to remove yourself from the places and the cycles whether that addiction starts.

Go to the source.

Many of us do things just so people will affirm us and for no other reason, myself included. You have to dig down, find the source, find the motivation and remove yourself from that cycle. Give up the Affirmation.

Aidan: Can you give us a real life example?

Mike: When I was at St. Toms I noticed I was really struggling with this. Of course I liked when people told me what a wonderful sermon I had given or how powerful my prayer was…you know…the normal stuff for any pastor. But it became part of the addictive cycle for me. So we would often have a response time after the sermon and we would sing and people could receive prayer and I’d stay to the side for that, but as it was winding down, my assistant would make sure she got my attention and give me the sign that it was time to quietly exit (someone else would close out the service). That way, my involvement in the service was simply me being obedient to what God had put on my heart to say, not waiting for people to say how wonderful it was. You have to go to the source!

Aidan: It seems like each of these things deals with a type of addiction.

Mike: It does!

Addiction to a type of Appetite.
Addiction to Affirmation.
And lastly, addiction to Ambition.

Ambition is really about an addiction to winning or having to be successful. And it isn’t that winning or being successful is wrong, it’s when we need it to give us our Identity that it really creates problems. If I lose, if I don’t get that promotion, if I don’t get that raise, if I don’t get that job, if that person doesn’t want to date me, if that person beats me at that game…it’s not that I have failed so much as I see myself as a Failure. And that will become my Identity: Failure. Or at least until I win again.

And when the Tempter has that, we are practically useless to God. We can’t be Agents of his Kingdom when we are seeking our own success first. Just can’t. We’re useless to him.

Aidan: So what response is appropriate here?

Mike: Pretty simple: Choose to lose.

If an argument is going a certain way with your spouse, choose not to have the last word. Lose the argument for the sake of the relationship.

If you’re playing a board game or basketball or any kind of game, make the point of playing to bless your opponent and don’t care whether you win or lose. I’m not saying don’t play hard, I’m saying know when your obsession to win takes over. Change the motivation from winning to blessing.

Go above and beyond at work but don’t let anyone know. Choose to lose the opportunity of that something extra being in the back of your boss’ mind when your annual review has come.

Take the discipline where you regularly choose to lose.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2011 11:46 am

    Great post lots to consider.

  2. April 20, 2011 8:41 pm

    Excellent blog. I am currently writiing a book about identity and your thinking is helpful!


  1. Engaging Temptation: Appetite — Ben Sternke
  2. Engaging Temptation: Affirmation — Ben Sternke
  3. Engaging Temptation: Ambition — Ben Sternke

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