Sunday, February 21, 2021

Giving Up, Giving In, or Getting Into?

This is a multiple purpose piece. It originated as part of Lenten Reflections distributed to people affiliated with the 2 congregations I currently serve. It was also submitted to the Hillsboro Banner newspaper of Hillsboro ND for my rotation of "Forward in Faith", a weekly article shared by the Hillsboro clergy.

I realize other people outside of the aforementioned groups read this blog. So, if it your first reading, GREAT! If you have read it before, you can go onto the next part of your day.  Stay well!

Years ago I could drive down the highways in peace and quiet. At some point rumble strips came into being. Oh, the annoyance. Yes, I realize the major safety factor associated with them. Yes, I know that is simple to implement. However, as I enjoy the freedom of the open road listening to podcasts and music while scanning the scenery, the displeasure of rumbling stifles my mood. And if it not me, it is the tractor trailer ahead of me riding the rumble strips. I understand their purpose. I also cherish my freedom to relax and drive.

There is an ancient practice of giving up something for Lent. Yup, approximately 45 days of self-imposed discipline. It is encircled by the idea of Jesus giving up so much for us miserable sinners that we can at least give up something for 45 days. A Google search brought me an interesting article from Country Living magazine. I know, what is the connection between Country Living and Lent? I found it ironic that one of the items they suggested giving up was social media and the internet. They also suggested soda, single use plastic, clutter, gossip, negativity, and coffee. At least they did not mention SPAM! Oh, that probably falls under the meatless Friday category. The nasty smell of salmon loaf emanating from the elementary school cafeteria still makes me cringe! At least we now have plant based meats. Goodbye salmon loaf!

Ruble strips and setting aside some for 45 days have their purpose. Human beings need to investigate their freedoms. Yet if you are like me, I will choose the freedom of my own decisions. I will accept the natural consequences of my choices. At a "church affiliated" college where I held residence for 1 year, a group of students gave up sobriety for Lent. The Pabst Blue Ribbon delivery truck was at their housing complex three times a week. The beer distributor was saddened when Easter arrived. The group of students were glad to have fewer headaches, clearer thinking, and more nutritious calories. Passing through the days of Lent indeed brought changes!

Modifying choices on a limited basis does not usually create lasting change. There is an account of Jesus' interaction with a sinful woman (John 8). The exchange between Jesus and the assembled Scribes and Pharisees (religious elite) goes like this:

"Let the one among you who is sinless throw the first stone." Those gathered look at each other. Jesus turns away for a brief time. He then notices the crowd had dispersed. Now the dialog between and the woman goes like this:

"Has no one condemned you?"

"No one."

"Neither do I condemn you; go and from now on sin no more."

No condemnation! Acceptance of the person. Did the woman live a sinless life from that time forward? Could that even be a possibility? Would condemnation reappear at some time? Did the Scribes and Pharisees change their perspectives about sinful people?

We have vast freedoms. We have life, energy, insight, choices, and opportunities pulsing through our bodies. Rumble strips and self-discipline are real. Yet, I sense God frees us to experience the vastness of the gifts provided. Getting towed out of ditches and recovering from hangovers are important times of consequential insight. Lasting change comes from inside gracious and unwavering relationships, especially with God. Neither do I condemn you.

Go and live some more! Get into life!

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