LENT BEGINS: GOSPEL TRANSFORMATION
IT CAN BE SUCH A RICH TIME,
BRINGING LIFE FROM THE BARREN SOD
WINTER INTO SPRING
THE RICHEST TIMES ON THIS BLOG HAVE BEEN DURING LENT!
IT’S THE UPSIDE DOWN THINKING OF GOD
FOR IN DYING, WE FIND LIFE
THE THING WE FEAR THE MOST
IS THE SECRET TO SETTING US FREE
WE ARE IN SLAVERY TO OURSELVES
TO OUR IDOLS
TO THE LIES OF THE ENEMY
BUT CHRIST LONGS TO SET US FREE
BUT MAKE NO MISTAKE
THERE WILL BE A BATTLE
AS JESUS BATTLED SATAN FOR FORTY DAYS
WE WILL BATTLE HIS LIES FOR FORTY DAYS
BUT AS JESUS CLUNG TO THE WORD
SO WILL WE, AND WHEN WE FAIL, WE WILL LOOK TO THE CROSS
ALLOWING THE GOSPEL TO TRANSFORM US FOR
LENT IS NOT SO MUCH ABOUT FORFEITING BUT ABOUT FORMATION
If you have never observed Lent, or if you observed it by giving up candy or meat on Fridays but never quite knew why, this will be a rich time for you. It begins on Ash Wednesday, which is Wednesday of this week, and continues to Easter. Not counting Sundays — that is forty days — paralleling the forty days Jesus was in the wilderness battling Satan. Often people do “give up” something for Lent, but the reason has often been lost. We turn away from something so that we will have the time to be with Jesus, or so that His life might bloom in us. We die that we might have life.
For those of you who have been sojourning with us for a while, or for those of you who have read my book Idol Lies or have studied “gospel transformation,” in a study, you know that what gets in our way of intimacy with the Lord is our heart idols. Instead of running to the Lord for comfort, approval, and security, we run to one of his gifts and turn it into a god. We may say, for example, that God is our refuge and we know He loves us, but in reality, when we are longing for refuge we run to friends, Facebook, or food. We are enslaved, as Galatians says, to “nongods.” This is not the gospel way of life. It is the opposite.
So the big goal this Lent will be to replace our heart idols with the Lord. But a smaller goal to help us move in that direction, is to replace the time we’ve spent feeding our idols with being in His presence. For example, you may choose any of these or another plan:
- Replace an hour or all of nightly television with this study and the supplemental reading
- Replace three lunches with three walks listening to mp-3 sermons
- Replace Facebook time with endeavoring to seek God’s face through worship music and praying the Word
- Replace staying up late and sleeping in with getting up and being with Him before your day begins
WE WANT TO KNOW HIM AND THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION. WE WANT TO EXPERIENCE HIS BEAUTY AND HIS BEAUTY IN US THIS LENT. THE ONLY WAY THAT CAN HAPPEN IS GOSPEL TRANSFORMATION — BEING CHANGED FROM THE INSIDE OUT.
This year I am so excited about where God is leading — we are going to consider how the gospel is not just the ABC’s of Christianity (the way in) but the A to Z of Christianity — (the way to live in victorious intimacy with Christ every day). As we apply the gospel to all of life and begin to plumb its depths, it will affect how we mother, how we face suffering, how we overcome our besetting sins, and most of all, our intimacy with God. I have only come to truly begin to grasp this in the last ten years. Before that, if you would have asked me if I understood the gospel, I would have been miffed. Of course! But now I so understand what Tim Keller means when he says:
If you think you understand the gospel, that proves you don’t, and if you say, “Oh I hardly understand it,” that means you are getting it.
For some of you, especially in the first few weeks, much will be review, but that is good, for as Martin Luther says, “We must beat this into our heads every day.” The default mode of the human heart is idolatry, either trusting in His gifts or in ourselves — because we don’t really trust His love enough to fall into it. We must keep resetting our hearts to the gospel.
Together we are going to seek His presence, turning from our idols and running toward Him. We will share, on this blog, what we are learning, what we are questioning, and how He is meeting us.
HOW DOES THIS LENTEN STUDY WORK?
This Sunday through Tuesday, we’ll get ready. Beginnings are always a bit messy, and we have an enemy, but I and others are praying you will not only start but stay with it! You don’t have to stay with the suggested time line — in fact this week especially, you’d be wise to work ahead.
I would like you to watch two short (under seven minutes) testimonies from women who found victory over a besetting sin, and also read a post from Ann VosKamp about Lent. Prayerfully consider what you will give up so that you have the time to do this study diligently. You might, as Rebecca did, give up television after supper. Or you might, as Rachael did, give up most of her internet activities for Lent. (But not this one!) You may decide to skip Starbucks or a weekly lunch so you can buy the MP3 sermons I am going to suggest (some are free, but some are 2.50) and have the time to listen to them. (The Keller sermon money goes to help the suffering, who are many, in New York City. ) Idols cannot be removed, only replaced. So our purpose is always intimacy with God in our sacrifices during Lent. In these next three days pray about how you can carve out the time (or the possible 2.50 a week) to better understand how to apply the gospel to your life. By Ash Wednesday, you should have a plan.
If you are new, on my homepage on the right click on the Getting Started and follow those directions. Identify yourself by more than just a first name. You may want to be April from Baltimore or, as some women from my Kansas City church might be joining us, you may want to be Melissa@GPC. (Gashland Presbyterian Church) Some women don’t comment on the blog at all, but keep their answers in a notebook. There are wonderful women on this blog and you are free to have discussions with one another, pray for one another, or not. I am diligently trying to read all the comments, particularly when I see questions about the text or misunderstandings — and there are a few women who have been with us a long time, are grounded in the Word, who help me. And all of you are free to jump in and encourage one another. We see better together than we do alone. Together we find warmth, like many logs on a fire, instead of a lonely log dying. That is the beauty of Christian fellowship — and yes, it can happen on a blog. We are experiencing God here. Idols have been demolished, sins overcome, and grief subdued. You are also free to disagree here. This is a very loving group.
Beginning this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, we will start our study by looking at some basics on the gospel way of life. Then next Sunday, and every Sunday, there will be a new post that will help you peer into the gospel and see how it might be applied to every problem you face. Please pray for God’s quickening on us all!
1. Tell us a sentence about yourself and why you have come.
2. What stood out to you from the above and why?
Monday: Testimonies from Rebecca and Rachael:
If you haven’t seen these testimonies (They are from the Idol Lies video curriculum) please watch them and comment on them. If you already have seen them, then you don’t need to watch, but answer the questions. (However, I think they are profound and worth re-watching.)
Rebecca’s story: (This is our Rebecca!)
3. How was Rebecca feeding her comfort idol? How is she replacing her comfort idol? What did God do in her life?
Rachael’s story (This Rachael has been a silent blogger, but will be joining us on the blog during Lent.)
4. How was Rachael feeding her control idol? How is she replacing her control idol? What did God do in her life?
Be praying about what you will “give up” and how you will be replacing it with God. Think about when and where you will do your study, come up with an occasional 2.50 to spend on sermons that are not free, and how you can get the most from this study. I’ll ask you to share your plan on Ash Wednesday.
Skip ahead to Tuesday if you have time.
Tuesday: What’s Lent All About?
Read Ann Voskamp’s discussion about Lent up to her “book list”: Link
5. Ann said Lent isn’t so much about forfeiting but about formation. One needs to be dispossessed of the possessions that possess — before one can be possessed of God. What possesses — obsesses you? Food? Facebook? Television? Texting? (This will help you decide what to give up that you might replace it with God.)
6. Ann failed the very first night, showing her her depravity, and leading her to the cross.She said: A failing lent? It is a good Lent because this Lenten Lament of my sin — it is preparing me for the Easter Joy of my Savior. How will you respond when you fail?
7. What else stood out to you from Ann’s post?
Lenten Book List
I am suggesting you also read, during Lent, one of the following books which will give additional support to living a gospel-transformed life. If you act now, you can probably get them through inter-library loan within a few weeks. The first is basic — if you haven’t read it, then this is your book during Lent:
THE PRODIGAL GOD by Tim Keller:
Watch this two minute trailer to whet your taste:
This is a small book, but a paradigm changing book on the gospel-centered life. You can also listen to eight free sermons on The Prodigal God by going to this link and finding the sermons on Luke 15.
If you have already read or listened to The Prodigal God, then choose one of these books as supplemental Lenten reading:
Bread and Wine Readings for Easter with selections from C. S. Lewis, Luther, Bonhoeffer, John Donne…
WHAT’S SO AMAZING ABOUT GRACE? by Philip Yancey.
In Yancey’s classic he says, “Grace is amazing because it’s not natural.” Gospel-transformed living is not natural — it’s supernatural. The natural default of the human heart is idolatry. This is what keeps us from forgiving, from loving well, from the peace God longs for us to have. Grace is another way to describe the gospel – and the gospel is the only remedy to our heart idols.
IDOL LIES by Dee Brestin
We are essentially going on from the concepts in Idol Lies, though we will review — but if you haven’t read it, you will find it helpful to do so. I am indebted to Tim Keller, Martin Luther, David Powlison, and so many others who have helped me understand idols of the heart.
ONE THOUSAND GIFTS by Ann Voskamp
When God changes us, He moves us from guilt, to grace, to gratitude. A transformed heart is a grateful heart. A gospel transformed heart is no longer trying to earn God’s approval, for it is resting in His grace (another way to describe the gospel) and responding with gratitude. But since the default of the human heart is idolatry, then continually being aware of His presence through His blessings, or as Ann calls it, “living eucharisto” can help switch that default mode of idolatry back to gospel transformation.
If you have read all of the above, I also recommend these excellent books that are related to gospel transformation:
Soul Idolatry: What Keeps Men Out of Heaven (David Clarkson)
Spiritual Depression (Martyn Lloyd-Jones)
Grace-Based Parenting (Elyse Fitzpatrick)
A Grace Disguised (Jerry Sittser)
The Gospel in Life (Tim Keller)
Go see the movie Les Miserables while it is still in the theatres!
And an easy reading extra:
Pearl in the Sand (Tessa Afshar — light historical fiction in which the author demonstrates an understanding of gospel transformation) Our own Nanci recommended it and I think you’ll like it. But this is not to be your main supplemental reading book!
8. What book will you get for your supplemental reading — and why?
Skip ahead to Wednesday if you have time.
ASH WEDNESDAY — WE OFFICIALLY BEGIN!
Many churches will have a service tonight in which ashes are placed on the foreheads of believers to remind them that they are dust and to dust they will return. This life is so short and we tend to be so earthbound in our perspective. When we are earthbound, we become enslaved to our idols. During Lent we want to set our affections on things above with particular diligence.
9. How is the Lord leading you to approach Lent? Is there something that you tend to run to instead of to Him? How will you replace it? When, where, and how will you meet with Him?
Ann Voskamp said: “I can’t seem to follow through on giving up for Lent, which makes me want to just give up on Lent.” Even this week, as God gives you a plan on what you might give up in order to have more of Him, you will face a battle. You may stumble and even fall, and you will consider giving up. But don’t let the enemy win so easily — for failing will lead you to the cross, and the cross will transform you. Lent is about Gospel formation, so keep repenting, and do not give up on Lent! You will find increasing strength. Prepare a prayer for the times when you are tempted to not follow through. Use Scripture, the Sword of the Spirit.
For example, I tend to run to food when I’m stressed or bored. I am very disciplined at meals, but I can easily wander into the pantry in an almost hypnotic trance between meals to grab crackers or a handful of cheerios. Why do I do this? I am feeding my heart idol of comfort with something besides The God of All Comfort. One of my Lenten disciplines therefore is to fast for some meals, but also, cut out all in-between meal snacking and to replace it with running to Him. I will not buy tempting provisions and I will not grab things between meals, but when tempted, will say this prayer and then run to Him: Lord, only in Your presence are fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. [Psalm 16:11] Yet here I am tempted to find pleasure in snacking. Remove this desire and as I run to You now, meet me, O Lord, and help me wait upon You and trust You to be my comfort. Will I stumble? Most likely. Will I give up on giving up? If I do, I am so deceived — for He is the only One who can rescue me. Lent is about Gospel Formation and learning to repent from my idols and run to Him.
10. What scriptural prayer can you prepare that fits your need for when you are tempted to retreat from your Lenten discipline?
THREE WAYS TO LIVE
In The Prodigal God, which is based on the parable Jesus tells of the two sons in Luke 15, Keller explains there are 3 ways to live:
- Irreligion: As when the younger son, in rebellion, ran away from the father and wasted his inheritance and life.
- Religion: As when the older son, in self-righteousness, thought he could be right before the father by keeping the rules.
- Gospel: As when the younger son returned, in true repentance, throwing himself on his father’s mercy and receive grace.
Too often we fall into the error as believers that if we are not “irreligious,” if we are not being bad, then we are right with God. We may be busy in church, even going to choir and Bible study, but we may not have a gospel-transformed heart. We tend to fall into th error, not of irreligion, but of religion. Instead of resting in the Father’s love, and responding to it in gratitude and service, we try to “earn” our own righteousness. The older son was not resting in the father’s love, and certainly not joyful or thankful, for he said, “I’ve slaved for you all these years…” He was showing, by the bad fruit emanating from his heart, that he had fallen into the other error, that of religion. (Christianity, by the way, is not a religion. Christianity is not earning favor with God, but believing, through the gospel, that we already have favor with God.)
As we will see, this week and next, we all have some “older brotherishness” in our hearts — even if we are not complete older brothers. We can be saved and yet still, on a day to day basis, not really be resting in God’s love. Our prayer lives, for example, may be filled with petition rather than praise, for we are not yet experiencing intimacy with God, not yet having a melted heart that is overwhelmed by His love.
Jesus tells three parables, the parable of the lost sons is the third. But it is important to see whom He was addressing.
11. According to Luke 15:1-2:
- To whom was Jesus speaking?
- About what were they murmuring?
- Which of the three ways of life do you think was true of the Pharisees and why?
12. Read Luke 15:13-16 and find all you can about the “irreligious” way of life.
13. Have you tried the above way of life? What did it bring you?
Read Luke 15:17-24 for The Gospel Way of Life and meditate on Rembrandt’s painting.
14. Remember: If you think you understand the gospel, you probably don’t. So slow down, using both the Word and Rembrandt’s painting, and answer:
- What did the son plan to say to the father, after he “came to himself?” (v. 18-19)
- How did the father respond before he ever heard why the son returned or what he planned to say? (vs. 20-24)
- In Rembrandt’s painting, how does he portray the destitute nature of the son and the love of the Father? Tell us all you see.
- Ask the Lord, through the above, to help you begin to comprehend His gospel love for you. Write what He impresses on you.
15. Read Luke 15:25-30 The Way of Religion (Remember — this is the pit into which believers tend to slip)
A. What does he say to his father? How does he show a lack of love and gratitude?
B. How was the older son not seeing his depravity?
Lent will show us our depravity — and that is a good thing.
THURSDAY (IF YOU ARE FALLING BEHIND, SKIP TO FRIDAY) COME BACK IF POSSIBLE
Read the following from Richard Lovelace, Professor of Religious History:
Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. Many…have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they are …drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience. Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: You are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith in love and gratitude.
16. Contemplate the above:
A. What does Lovelace say most Christians rely upon for feeling accepted by God?
B. What does he say few know enough to do?
C. How does this speak to you?
17. How did the father offer grace to the son who was choosing the way of religion? (verse 31)
18. How did the father give grace to the son who chose the way of irreligion? (verse 32)
Listen to this free MP3 sermon. (You can just play it, but it will be less likely to skip and you will be able to stop and start it more easily if you download it. If this is new, please have a young person help you. It’s not hard to learn.): Link
19. Share your notes from this sermon.
20. What is your take-a-way from this week and why?