Tomorrow begins the season of Lent!

Tomorrow begins the season of Lent for Christians all over the world.

In case you are wondering, Lent is a 40 day period of waiting and preparation before Easter.

40 has great symbolic meaning in scripture. The flood of the Noah and the ark story was 40 days. The Israelites wandered the desert for two 40 years periods. Jesus fasted 40 days in before his public ministry. Jesus hung out with his disciples for 40 days after Easter morning, preparing them for ministry and the reception of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

40 is almost always connected to preparation and purification. Lent is just that. It is the emptying of self. It is preparing oneself to receive the good news of Easter, to experience it afresh, uncluttered from opulence, comfort, worldliness, and mixed-up priorities.

This church season is usually practiced by fasting (or giving up) something that will help one remain focused and move towards the above goals.

Every year I am tempted to try and kill two birds with one stone. If I give up all sweets I will lose weight and hopefully will have more spiritual direction, removing unnecessary comfort. It seems like a great plan, the best of both worlds. But that is precisely the problem for me... I want both worlds, I want both kingdoms.

This year I am going to try and think of something that is truly self-negating. I think it should be something that is self-emptying instead of something that self-improving.

This, of course, is entirely an impossibility inherent in the exercise itself. For to participate in the grace of this season is just that, unmerited grace. Lent is a response to what Jesus has already done and is doing in my life. My action of identifying with the passion of the Lord is a reaction. I have already been moved, improved, changed, transformed and am semper refomanda (always being reformed/reforming). So, this process is inherently supposed to "improve me." Spiritual disciplines should always have the goal of drawing closer to the Lord who is the source of goodness and transformation.

More than all that, I think the mark of a changed life is a changed community. I want my lent practice to change the community around me, to change the people around me, to change the world around me. If the greatest commandment is to Love God and neighbor and if the royal law of Christ is to love one another, than my actions should not only benefit me.

So, in those themes, I have a few suggestions for myself and anyone else looking:
  • Not fasting from chocolate but fasting from slave chocolate
    • Something like 70% and up of the world's chocolate is plagued by the issue of slavery. 80% of slaves are women and children. Whole cocoa operations are run by child slaves. So, maybe don't give up chocolate but give up chocolate that is not fair-trade certified. This would men resisting those Reese's Peanut butter cups and Cadbury Eggs (oh I love them -  but self-emptying) in exchange for a more neighbor-friendly choice. There are some great options:
      • One of my favorites is Theo Chocolate right here in Seattle. It is so unique in so many ways. It is Fair Trade, Organic and Bean-to-bar. That means that they get their beans from farms and make the chocolate themselves, which very few chocolate factories do. It does cost more than Hershey's or something like that, but this is the actual cost of food not produced by people who are enslaved and underpaid.
      • Also, Ben and Jerry's ice cream is trying to remove all chocolate that isn't fair trade from their products. Though they aren't all the way there, they have done a good job so far and are worth supporting. You can read about it here.
  • Planting Trees in Africa and South America
    • Eden Reforestation Projects is doing it better, cheaper and with more transformation than anyone out there. They are planting trees for 10 cents a piece. And with their nursery system, they are providing jobs for people in impoverished areas. Their model is fantastic. $10 plants 100 trees and provides jobs. 
      • If you are unsure of the need of such a project, you can read here about deforestation.
  • Eat-in for 40 days and donate the left over money to people who are without food...
    • This one may take some math but there are some ways to go about it. Look at your debit card transaction from last month see how much you spent on food outside of the home. Subtract from that your grocery expenses and give the rest. 
    • Where to send it is up to you...
      • Every community has a shelter that gives food away. Salvation Army, A Food Bank, a shelter.
      • The need over seas is even greater with so many good organizations to give to. World-Vision is a popular one. One of my favorites is International Child Care Ministries.
        • Through ICCM you can give to a food fund or even buy an animal for a family or village in other parts of the world that can produce food for a long time to come. There are other funds for food, water filters, rebuilding efforts and so on.
These all meet the requirements of self-emptying sacrifice that betters the world around. May we all sense the Lord's presence in a mighty way as we enter into a new season. May the emptying of ourselves make room for a new work of the Spirit to change and transform us. May the good news of Jesus move us to faith and love.

Blessings!

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