Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

What About Lent?

Growing up in the Roman Catholic church, the observance of Lent was a given.  Lent is the 40 days before Easter (excluding Sundays), and is generally observed by “giving up” something.  At least that’s how I remember it from childhood.  I generally gave up candy, but I can remember trying to convince myself that licorice wasn’t actually candy, but medicine. And, of course, there was the no meat on Friday thing.

I had been gone from the Catholic church for several years and had become an Evangelical Protestant, when I was visiting with some Catholic friends from my home town on Good Friday and made the mistake of ordering pepperoni on my pizza. Their surprise didn’t escape my notice. I hadn’t even thought about it being a Friday in Lent, much less Good Friday. But as I enjoyed my meal, I remember feeling a sense of freedom.

So the question comes up every year: should Protestant Christians observe Lent?  For the last several years, my home church (not Catholic) has observed Ash Wednesday with the distribution of ashes, and has encouraged members to practice some form of self-denial.  But this year, I particularly appreciated my pastor’s insight on Lenten observance.  His comment was that we shouldn’t be giving up something just for self-denial’s sake, but that by giving up something we could be using that time or energy to do something else for God’s kingdom.  Pastor Brett shared that he was giving up an hour of sleep each day so that he could spend that time praying for us, his parishioners.

This is the example Jesus gave us.  The Creator of the Universe came and walked among His creation, in humility and servanthood.  He denied all that He was to show us the depth and height and breadth of the Father’s love for us. He used the time to teach and heal and touch and restore, and ultimately, to pay the price for our sins.  Then He conquered death and the grave so we could know the promise of new life.

As we prepare to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection, why shouldn’t we share in His denial and sacrifice, as well as His servanthood?

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11 NIV

Dressed to Be Blessed

I have a ‘vacation shirt’.  It’s a black sleeveless polo that is as thin and soft as a well-worn hanky.  Most of the year, it lives quietly tucked away in my dresser drawer.  But my family knows I’m officially on vacation when they see Mom in that shirt.  It’s comfortable for hanging around the house or walking along the beach.

We all have certain clothes for various occasions.  They’re our church clothes, wedding attire, gardening grubbies, our favorite torn T-shirt for washing the car or the sports team sweats for watching the game.  We have that special outfit that we wear when we want to feel confident, professional, even powerful.  Don’t believe me?  Next time the President of the United States gives his State of the Union address, just count how many women in the audience are wearing a red suit!  Even the president’s tie choice is scrutinized that night.  Leaders understand the importance of dressing for success.

The prophet Isaiah had something to say about clothing, but he wasn’t talking about power suits:  “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness…” Isaiah 61:10 a (NIV- emphasis mine)

Righteousness is a word that appears in almost every book in the Bible.  It describes both the nature of God and His desire for His children.  The Lord is described as a righteous judge.  Jesus encourages us to “seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and everything else will fall into place.”  Matthew 6:33 (paraphrase  mine)

The thought of trying to achieve that righteousness in our own power is overwhelming.  But Jeremiah, when prophesying about the coming of the Messiah, proclaims, “This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness”  Jeremiah 23:6 b (NIV)

Not only is God the Righteous, Almighty, Eternal — but because of His love for us, He sent Jesus to become Our Righteousness.  He gives us — yes, clothes us, in that same righteousness.  It’s something we can’t earn or strive for or manipulate.  Whether in my sinfulness, or when I’m struggling to achieve religious perfection, He reaches out His hand, gently wraps me in His love, and whispers, “Here, I’ve got this.”  At that point, I have only to let go and surrender to Him, and  find myself arrayed in a “robe of righteousness.”    It is both freeing and humbling to realize it is nothing I have done, but only God’s love and mercy.

That’s some wardrobe!  It’s what the “well-blessed” folk are wearing these days.  How about you?

Copyright 2011 Mary Egidio — Permission is granted to share this work, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.

Daily Revival

I use a skin care product with the name ‘Daily Revival’  …an interesting concept, don’t you think?   While the product is no doubt talking about a renewing and revitalizing of my complexion (it needs all the help it can get), the label often reminds me of the spiritual application.

Achieving ‘daily revival’ in my personal spiritual life would be a New Year’s resolution worth pursuing, but is truly  more daunting than watching my calorie intake or exercising more faithfully.  As a fairly new Christian, I read somewhere that revival was not ‘prayed down’ but ‘obeyed down’ — that it is in obedience and surrender that the power and movement of God’s spirit is most deeply realized.  But to obey, first I have to hear and understand.  To do that, I have to be listening.  To be listening, I have to be disconnected from all the other distractions around me.

Paul urged the Romans, “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2 – emphasis mine)  As one version renders it, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold!

Daily Revival — not just for my face, Lord — I give you permission to do whatever it takes to cleanse, renew and revitalize all of me!  I want to follow your will — not the direction of the world.  To quote a song from Godspell, whose lyrics were taken from Richard of Chichester:

Day by day, O dear Lord, three things I pray: To see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.

Copyright 2011 – Mary E. Egidio   Permission is granted to share this work, but only with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.

Creeping Away

So I parked my car at the office the other morning and went inside.  My co-worker was already there, and I had brought her a birthday present.  I gave her the gift and we chatted briefly, then I remembered that I hadn’t unlocked the office door. When I grabbed my keys and headed in that direction, I was shocked to discover that my car had backed nearly all the way out of it’s parking spot!  It was creeping — so slowly I almost couldn’t detect the motion.  It’s a manual transmission, and obviously, I’d forgotten to pull the hand brake.

“And where do you think you’re going?” I asked, as I opened the door and jumped in.  (Now you KNOW it was moving slowly)  Fortunately for me, the smaller size and weight of the car and the slant of the parking lot kept it from really taking off or causing any damage to itself or anything else. (it was actually turning parallel to the building)  I know my physics-minded friends could explain that, given time and the proper circumstances, it could have developed enough momentum to make it to Orlando, but I was spared having to chase it down the interstate, thank you very much.

Sometimes my life creeps away from me like that car.  I get distracted.  I get too busy.  I over-commit myself.  I get lazy.  I procrastinate.  And slowly, without realizing it, and without meaning to, I can get off-course.  I know what is really important, what I need to be doing, but I find myself doing something else instead.

My car got the creeps that day because I was distracted from my normal routine. Okay, I confess… I was signing the birthday card to go with my friend’s present.  This was not a bad thing… it just distracted me from the better thing… setting the parking brake.

It’s no wonder that Paul, throughout his letters to the early churches, repeatedly warns the new believers to be alert, self-controlled, and strong.   He tells the Ephesians,  “Be very careful, then, how you life — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”  Ephesians 5:15-17 (NIV)   He warns Timothy to ‘guard what has been entrusted to your care.’  1 Timothy 6:20  (NIV)  We generally believe he was referring to spiritual battles against sin and temptation.  He could just as easily have been referring to those seemingly ‘good’ things that distract us from doing what is best.

Maybe I need to check to see if any areas of my life might be slowly creeping in the wrong direction… what about you?

Copyright 2010 – Mary E. Egidio  Permission is granted to share this work, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.

Marathoners

I have several friends and acquaintances who run in marathons.  For some unknown reason, they feel inspired, even driven, to train and compete in a 26.2 mile test of endurance.  One friend recently ran the Marine Corps Marathon, through Washington, D.C., and placed first in her division – of women age 60-65!  Her next goal is to run the New York City Marathon in 2011.  I tell her I want to be like her when I grow up… but realistically, a 5K or 10K would be a far more reasonable goal for this body.  She claims I could be a marathoner.  I choose not to.

Training to run a marathon requires a long-term commitment of time and physical energy.   The runner spends months conditioning his body, building up to the race with longer and longer runs, cross-training to strengthen muscles and prevent injury.  When they say yes to the training, they must necessarily say no to other things, at least temporarily.  It becomes a lifestyle choice.

It’s true of any momentous undertaking.  Whether running a race, writing a book, starting a business, fighting cancer, earning a degree, or raising a family – success involves a long-term commitment, sacrifice, and understanding that sometimes we have to say no to other activities, at least for a season.  My husband likes to say that when he said I do to me at our wedding, he said I don’t to every other woman in the world.  And I like to hear him say it!  But he’s right.  It’s a choice on his part (and mine).

Eugene Peterson describes the Christian life as ‘a long obedience in the same direction’, quoting Friedrich Nietzsche. It’s not unlike a marathon – calling upon our deepest reserves of faith and spiritual strength at times.  We must commit ourselves to training, preparation, discipline, and sacrifice, in order to endure.  Saying yes to the Christian life necessitates saying no to things that would hinder or distract us from the goal.  The benefits far outweigh the sacrifices.  It means making a choice.

Paul reminds the Corinthians, “Run to win. All good athletes train hard.  They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.  I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line.  I’m giving it everything I’ve got.  No sloppy living for me!  I’m staying alert and in top condition.  I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.”  1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (MSG)

Lace up those sneakers, my friend!  Let’s keep running.  Together, we can make it across the finish line.

Copyright 2010 – Mary E. Egidio – permission is granted to share this content, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.

What Are You Wearing?

This past weekend, my son presented a beautiful engagement ring to a fine Christian girl and asked that all-important question, “Will you marry me?”

He took time and careful counsel to choose what he hopes is just the right ring for his intended.  He saved his hard-earned money and sacrificed to make payments until the ring was his.  He thought through how and where he would present the ring to her, to make the moment memorable. (she’s a children’s pastor, so he enlisted the help of the kids and did it at the end of the children’s church service)  Her acceptance of the ring indicated her acceptance of his love and their intention to spend their lives together as husband and wife.

But there’s a next step to this process that might seem pretty obvious.  How do you think my son would feel if she accepted the ring, but didn’t wear it?  That’s silly, you say.  She’ll be flashing that ring around for everyone to see!  Her choice to wear the ring demonstrates to the world her love and commitment to my son and their relationship

I believe the same is true of our relationship with Christ.  It’s not enough for us just to accept His forgiveness and salvation through His death on the cross.  Paul encourages the Colossians , “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other …Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV)

It’s our choice to ‘wear’ the qualities Paul describes.  It seems obvious that we would want to wear them. This is how we declare to the world our love and commitment to the Son of God.  Putting on these virtues is an important part of demonstrating our relationship with Him and His children.  The world will know to whom we belong by our love for each other.

So…that’s what I’m wearing…besides that ‘mother-of-the-groom’ dress I’ll have to find.  Let the wedding planning begin!

Copyright 2010  Mary E. Egidio — permission is granted to share this work, but with attribution and not for commercial purposes.  (Yes, you can share this, but tell who wrote it, where you found it, and don’t try to sell it)

Do You Want to See My Scar?

As a young girl, I can remember when U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson lifted his shirt for the cameras and showed off his scar from a recent surgery.  Although his staff claimed he was just trying to reassure the public that he was okay, critics saw it as unprofessional and crass — a gesture somehow beneath his status as president.

I recently heard Jan, a breast cancer survivor, speak at our church’s Mothers Day tea.  She told us that shortly after she received her diagnosis, a friend who was a breast cancer survivor took her under her wing and told her what she could expect.  A few days before Jan’s surgery, her friend took her aside and asked, “Do you want to see my scar?”  After seeing it, Jan found herself saying, “Is that all?  That’s not so bad. I can handle that.”

I was struck by the beauty and sacrifice of this single act.  Jan’s friend was willing to share the results of this extremely private and emotionally painful experience — all so that Jan could feel less fear and anxiety going into the surgery.  She understood that many times the fear and anticipation of the unknown is worse than the actual experience.  Or perhaps some other breast cancer patient had done the same for Jan’s friend before her surgery.  Sharing the scars gave strength, and ultimately healing — I believe to both parties.

We all walk around with scars, visible and invisible, that are the results of our life experiences.  We keep some hidden because the stories behind them are too painful to share.  Sometimes just thinking of the experience reopens those old wounds. We may feel guilt, embarrassment, shame.  But if, in God’s timing and with His help, we can bring them out in the open, expose them to the light and fresh air, a miraculous healing can begin.  We’re admitting to those around us that we are real people with imperfections and problems just like everyone else.  As a result, we can help in the healing process for others who share the same pain, and we can both gain strength for our own individual journeys.

After all, it is Jesus who is our ‘wounded healer’, and through whom we will finally come to complete healing and wholeness.  Isaiah prophesied, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)

Whether a president or a pauper, we all have scars…and it’s okay to share them.

Copyright  2010 Mary E. Egidio  – Permission is granted to share this article, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.  (Yes, you can share this, but tell who wrote it, where you found it, and don’t try to sell it)