A few weeks ago, I was out driving when it started to snow. Just a few flakes at first, nothing to worry about. But after a few minutes it made the Queensway pretty slushy. While driving behind some of the large trucks, the slush would spatter on my windshield. At first I didn't put my wipers on because it just made the view a little foggy, not enough to worry about. Finally it got to the point where I had to put my wipers on and all they did was smear the slush splatter so that my vision was impaired. However, there was that that little space of clear windshield left to squint through. But as a transport truck passed me, I got a massive splash and suddenly I couldn't see anything. I lost my focus because the view out the windshield was completely gone. I felt a sense of panic because I could no longer see the lines for the car lanes and at that point I happened to be on a part of the Queensway near my home that is undergoing construction so the lanes have been repainted to be “s” shaped rather than straight. I later heard on the radio that there were a lot of accidents that day, so clearly others lost their ability to focus on the road or the traffic in front of them as well.
It is so easy to lose our focus whether it's driving or whether it's in just living day to day. Today is the first Sunday in Lent and Lent begins with the story of the beginning of Jesus' public ministry with His baptism and His temptation in the desert. Lent is that season of the forty days leading up to Easter and the celebration of the resurrection, a time when we're called to keep our eyes and our focus on the cross.
I want to help you to become cross eyed this season. We're called to have a Cross eyed faith, and a Cross eyed focus.
Worship is always a good place to start to develop our Cross eyedness, especially worship where we celebrate Communion. At the Lord's table we are reminded whose we are and our relationship with God. We are fed and filled with God's grace once again. And we are reminded that all the world can offer in place of this feast of forgiveness, this all you can eat buffet of God's grace, is nothing more than imitation, stale leftovers.
When I was growing up, people talked about giving something up for Lent. It was usually something consumable. But Lent is not really about giving up something for the sake of giving up something. It is about reflection on our relationship with God and trying to live the way Jesus has taught us. It is about focusing on the cross and therefore, becoming Cross eyed. I am proposing that in order to do this, you consider one or both of the following actions this season - self-denial or giving something up or acts of kindness or taking something on. I Giving Something Up
Self-denial is an important Christian concept, as it allows us to walk the same path Jesus walked. It allows us to feel some of what Jesus felt when He gave up everything for our sake. Over the ages people have given up all sorts of things like meat, to sweets, chocolate, pop going to the movies and those kinds of things. I know one guy who gave up giving things up for Lent. Not really the right spirit but you get the idea.
The idea of self-denial is the idea of making a sacrifice. But it shouldn't be something you're not going to miss. I can't give up bacon, cooked cabbage and boiled potatoes. While it sounds good, it would be a sham because I don't actually like those foods. Self-denial is about making a sacrifice that makes a difference, focusing on the Cross and reminding ourselves what Christ gave up for us.
I have a few alternate ideas for things to give up this Lent:
1. GIVE UP grumbling. Instead, "In everything give thanks." Constructive criticism is okay but moaning, groaning, and complaining are not Christian disciplines.
2. GIVE UP 10 to 15 minutes in bed. Instead, use that time in prayer, Bible study and personal devotion. A few minutes in prayer will keep you focused.
3. GIVE UP looking at other people's worst attributes. Instead concentrate on their best points. We all have faults. It is a lot easier to have people overlook our shortcomings when we overlook theirs first.
4. GIVE UP speaking unkindly. Instead, let your speech be generous and understanding. It costs so little to say something kind and uplifting or to offer a smile.
5. GIVE UP your hatred of anyone or anything! Instead, learn the discipline of love. "Love covers a multitude of sins."
6. GIVE UP your worries and anxieties. They're too heavy for you to carry anyway. Instead, trust God with them. Anxiety is spending emotional energy on something we can do nothing about: like tomorrow! Live today and let God's grace be sufficient.
7. GIVE UP TV one evening a week. Instead, call someone who's lonely or sick. There are those who are isolated by illness or age. Why isolate yourself in front of the tube?n Give someone a precious gift: your time!
8. GIVE UP buying anything but essentials for yourself! Instead, give the money to charity. The money you would spend on the luxuries could help someone meet basic needs. We're called to be stewards of God's riches, not consumers.
9. GIVE UP judging others by appearances and by the standard of the world. Instead, learn to give up yourself to God. There is only one who has the right to judge. II. Taking Something On
Another way of focusing on the cross in Lent is to take something on or to do acts of kindness.
I knew a woman who loved to make jelly. And she made delicious jelly. But you don't normally make jelly during Lent because the fruit isn't available. However, she set aside every Thursday to make jelly. The cost was higher because she had to buy fruit out of season. But she would work all day making jelly, then she would bring it to church and sell it to the members. The money raised would then go to a special mission or ministry project she had chosen. She could just given the money she spent on the jelly but had she done that, she wouldn't have been able to give God the time and the labour. And she wouldn't have been able to pray over each jar of jelly or make a list of those who bought her jelly so she could pray for them. (Nobody else knew about that part.) Her sacrifice and self-denial were a blessing in any number of ways.
Another way to take something on is to look at what you're giving. If you have been working on tithing (that is giving 10% of your income to the church or charity as is prescribed in the bible) but haven't worked your way to that level yet, why not start right now. Do it as a personal sacrifice. Do it as an act of faith and trust. Do it as a way to discipline yourself and focus on the cross.
Or if your givings are already 10% or higher, take on the support for something else. Maybe a new charity or ministry project. Lent doesn't have to be about simply giving something up, it can also be about taking something on – something that helps you to focus on God. III. Do Both
Of course, there's nothing that says you can't do both. As an act of self-denial and sacrifice give up one meal on a particular day. The bible talks about fasting as well – that is, to give up eating for an entire day. Not to lose weight but as a spiritual discipline and as solidarity with the poor and hungry. Every time your stomach growls, think of them. When you fast, make sure you drink plenty of liquids. Or do a juice fast. Only drink fruit juice, to keep your blood sugar levels up. That doesn't mean drink ten gallons of cranberry juice or orange juice, but drink a little occasionally to curb your appetite.
Or you can do a partial fast. You can fast starting immediately after breakfast. Skip lunch and dinner or dinner and supper whichever it is at your house. Skip that evening snack. Spend the time you would have spent eating in meditation and prayer. Or read your bible. Or both. All of these things will help you focus on the cross. Then when you wake up the next morning, don't go to an all you can eat breakfast buffet, eat a light breakfast.
And the taking on or acts of kindness part of the fast? Take the money that you would have spent for those meals and donate it to feeding the hungry. Donate it to Outreach or the Food Bank. Don't skip the meals and think, "Oh now I've got extra money to buy, whatever." The sacrifice is for God, and this is God's money. Use it to honour God and the sacrifice you have made.
A business man driving home from work one day, saw a little league baseball game in progress. He decided to stop and watch. He sat down in the bleachers and asked a kid what the score was. "We're behind 14 to nothing," he answered with a smile.
"Really," he responded. "I have to say you don't look very discouraged."
"Discouraged?" the boy asked with a puzzled look on his face. "Why should we be discouraged? We haven't been up to bat yet."
A lot of us start thinking about all the things in our life that need to be changed. Or all the things that are out of control and we get discouraged and we lose our focus. We fall back into old habits, when in reality those old habits should be gotten rid of. We all are tempted. No one is exempt from temptation, not even the Son of God. But Jesus overcame temptation by keeping His focus.
We know that overcoming temptation makes us stronger. Overcoming temptation helps us keep our focus. The whole point of the Lenten Season is to end up Cross Eyed. I'm not talking about being cross-eyed where you can see left out of your right eye and right out of your left eye. I'm talking about having our lives and our hearts focused on the cross of Christ. Keep your focus. Stay Cross Eyed.