Wrangling Raspberries: Prickly Discipleship

Wrangling Raspberries: Prickly Discipleship

A three-part series on faith, discipleship and witness from my northern Alberta garden.


My kids love fruit. Our local grocery store always has a basket of free fruit, offered to help keep kids “healthily” occupied while shopping. Choosing their respective “shopping” fruit is an adventure, and our first stop. They especially love the fruit that we can grow at home: raspberries, currants, sour cherries, strawberries, crab apples, pine berries, the occasional blueberry, gooseberries, rhubarb, goji berries, sweet tiny tomatoes (yes, tomatoes) and in particular, haskap, or more commonly known, honeyberries or blue honeysuckle. This year, we are attempting ground cherries, some new golden raspberries, valiant grapes (again!) and will be adding a dwarf apple tree to the front yard.

Haskap berries. This cultivar is from a southern Siberian mountain range. They fruit very early, before the strawberries. The birds love them.

Growing fruit in northern Alberta is not without it’s challenges. While there are many great fruits that can be grown with abandon (can you say giant rhubarb), there are others that simply cannot thrive in our growing conditions, and if they survive at all, they are stunted and do not produce. Our growing season is short. Our nights remain cool. Even our prolonged high temperatures do not remain consistent enough to sustain certain heat loving fruits. Bananas and mangoes will forever remain a grocery store purchase, though kiwi has become a distinct possibility! I have managed, in the past, to grow enormous mini-watermelon plants; their vines overtook the garden bed, the sidewalk and the fence. Yet they produced no fruit. They were an impulse purchase, to placate my four and a half year old, from a local greenhouse and I had no clue how to grow them. I spent little time preparing, and simply planted them in a sunny spot in the yard. If I had taken a moment to do a little research, I would have realized the perfect, warm and sunny location they needed for fruit production was next to my house, where the heat would settle and reflect and create a micro climate. So instead, they greedily soaked up much needed nutrients, ran roughshod over my feeble attempt at flowers, and did not produce fruit. They had potential, but they ultimately did not provide the fruit we were looking forward to.

Our discipleship efforts are much the same as my watermelon misadventure. Often we have high expectations, and yet fail to remember the commitment required. We forget our part is dependent on more than our dreams and wishes, our visions and desires. We live expectantly, waiting (impatiently) for the blossoming fruit, while neglecting the conditions required to obtain a harvest. In ministry, we desire to produce disciples … forgetting that growth and production is God’s domain (or the respective plant’s if you are following the metaphor) and we are instead called to cultivate disciples.            Read more

We do not produce disciples, we cultivate them; discipleship is not the result of rote production, but exquisite cultivation.

In the back of my yard along the fence, grow raspberry bushes. They were transplanted from the huge patch at my in-laws. There must be something in the dirt out there at the ol’ chicken farm, because these things are kind of mutant-like. Let me explain: they rooted and took off almost immediately, they produce an amazing amount of sweet and tangy berries, and they spread, via their roots, rapidly. By rapidly, I mean out of control – pure invisible chaos! They spread to the point of growing two feet out the other side of the fence; they spring up randomly in the compost pile and  find a home right in the middle of the green beans! They have not yet reached the status of a bramble or thicket, but they are definitely edging closer.

When I think of discipleship, I think of my raspberry patch. Cultivating. Pruning. Experiencing. I cannot help but be reminded of Jesus’ teaching in John 15 as I set about pruning the patch, hoping (and praying) that they will provide a bountiful harvest for my children to enjoy as they play in the yard. Each fall I cut the old canes to the ground, as they will no longer bear any fruit and tend to just get in the way. New canes emerge and grow quickly, sometimes in unwanted places! This year, the first order of business is some intense spring pruning, digging and relocating. Anyone need some raspberry plants?

Discipleship is messy. Discipleship is painful an prickly (raspberry thorns anyone?). Discipleship is hard. Discipleship will push you to the brink, and then some, which my raspberry plants may soon find out! Discipleship leads to thicker and fuller and deeper union and communion with God, through the Lord Jesus Christ and transformation by the Holy Spirit. Consider these words:

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.  But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.” (John 15:1-8)

 

If we do not produce disciples, but instead cultivate them; and if discipleship is indeed not the result of rote production, but exquisite cultivation, then we must begin with the source of life. If a plant is growing, it is alive. For a disciple to grow, they must be alive. Jesus tells us that to be alive is to be attached to Him. We have been pruned and purified by the message of Jesus Christ. He is the true vine, the one in whom we must remain, and when severed from reveals we can do nothing … we cannot grow and therefore are dead. Our responsibility is to remain connected to Jesus, the one who gives and sustains and produces. We cannot produce genuine growth and change; our hearts and character are shaped by the Holy Spirit. We can however cultivate the soil and the connection – our lives of faith. If we attempt to produce and grow apart from Christ, we will end up with enormous mini-watermelon plants: greedily soaking up the next best thing; running roughshod over those around us; and eventually withering away and rotting, without ever showing signs of that which we were made to do.

To cultivate and allow ourselves to be cultivated in discipleship is not easy; however, as we open ourselves up to the possibility, new life is infused into fallow ground. But it can be prickly. It can be dangerous. It can be more rewarding than we ever imagined. Sometimes, there are moments of explosive growth, in our lives and in our gardens, and then it tapers off, finding a rhythm before bursting forth with an abundance of fruit. Other times, the growth is slow and steady, responding to the pruning of the gardener, with ease and constancy. And there are times when growth must be restarted by a complete transplant; new soil, new location, intentional cultivation.

In this time of Lent, let us begin anew. The prophet Hosea provides us with timely wisdom:  “Sow righteousness, reap love. It’s time to till the ready earth, it’s time to dig in with God” (Hosea 10:12a, The Message). What does that look like? Again, it will look different for different people, though there are some basic ways we can begin the process of cultivating and being cultivated.

One suggestion and encouragement here is to recall the words of Jesus in John 15.

Let us submit ourselves to the reminder of Jesus that God is the gardener of our lives. He is the one who prunes, effectively shaping and forming and disciplining His children, who are connected to the vine of life, Jesus Christ. The more the Lord prunes, the more fruit will be produced in the lives of those who call Him by name. When I leave my raspberry plants to their own agenda, they become an out-of-control mess. Damaged, diseased and dead. The dead canes are just that – dead. Uprooting a dead raspberry cane can be done with relative ease; they are severed from anything that sustains life. The damaged and diseased canes may still produce some fruit, but often the fruit is small and bitter. What areas of our lives are damaged, diseased or approaching death,  in desperate need of pruning by the Gardner?

Perhaps, the simplest way to begin is to start breaking up any fallow ground in our hearts and our lives and invite the Lord to begin pruning, to His glory.


 

To-may-to, To-mah-to: What Does It Matter?

To-may-to, To-mah-to: What Does It Matter?

A three-part series on faith, discipleship and witness from my northern Alberta garden.


It’s that time of year again already. It corresponds nicely with the new beginnings promised by the Easter season. Seeds are being planted indoors for an early start; plants and hard to find seeds have been ordered; and garden plans are being made, and remade, including the addition of strange new fruits and vegetables. My husband looks at the snow on the ground and shakes his head at me.

My first Cherokee Purple of the 2016 growing season.

I love to grow tomatoes. Small, Chocolate Sprinkles cherry tomatoes; big, monster Mortgage Lifter tomatoes; and all shapes and sizes and colors in between. My yard becomes a veritable jungle of tomato plants throughout the summer, usually containing a minimum of 15 different varieties and anywhere between 25-30 plants. Some of these plants have the potential to grow 8-10 feet tall in optimal growing conditions (though the growing conditions in northern Alberta doesn’t quite fit the definition “optimal”), while others remain a compact 2 feet tall. Still others hover around the 3-4 foot range, while some become a maze; a mass of vines in a rather puzzle-like configuration.

Each plant has its own peculiarities and demands. They are kind of like people. Even two plants of the same variety, from the same source are unique in their individual needs, progress and proclivities.

Most times, it’s rather smooth sailing: prepping, planting, watering, feeding, pruning, a little bit of fussing over, and the best part, harvesting. Sometimes however, it’s a little rockier: tangled or shallow roots, poor weather, pests, disease, children (!), minimal production. It seems no amount of intervention helps.  Eventually, the plant succumbs to latent forces beyond my control (and sometimes within my control, READ: my children). Thankfully, disease has not been a major problem; the weather tends to cooperate with a little bit of forecast watching and preparation. Tangled or shallow roots on the other hand remains one of my greatest challenges, stunting plants and beginning the death process before growth has really begun. However, every once in a while  appears a plant that has noticeably begun the death process, and yet, survives and thrives. With some perseverance, faithful attention and radical “root” intervention, which includes a rather violent cutting and pruning, the growth process is re-started with a change in conditions. These plants are by far my favorite; they are often my greatest producers.  Read more

In many ways, tomato growing has much in common with faith, discipleship and witness. Extraordinary lessons can be gleaned from creating; working the earth and watching a plant grow, blossom and produce sweet, sun kissed fruit that can be shared with friends and neighbours alike.

Let’s begin with faith.

Roots are essential for the proper growth, development and production of a tomato plant. Roots search for a source of nutrients as they grow deeper into the soil; they take up water and food, delivering it to the developing plant. They sustain proper growth, providing health and stability.  They are the conduit for fruit production. When roots are tangled or shallow, they are unable to support the growing plant above the soil, often strangling the very thing they are meant to sustain. They are the anchor for the plant, and when shallow, cannot provide the necessary foundation for strength and stability. Stability is important when a plant has the potential to grow 8-10 feet tall!  What is happening below the surface must be healthy. If unhealthy, radical intervention becomes critical for the survival of the plant.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7) 

Our faith is much the same as the tomato plant. What is happening on the inside (or below the surface) must be healthy. Our roots are healthy only when they find their grounding and sustenance in Jesus Christ.  If unhealthy or tangled or shallow, radical intervention is necessary for strength and survival. Paul tells us that it is not a matter of simply planting and walking away, or simply coming to know and accept Jesus as Lord and that being enough. No, instead, we must continue to follow him; to faithfully nurture our roots, actively aiding them as they grow down into Jesus, who is the source of life. Just as a plant can only grow strong and tall (as tall as the less than optimal northern Alberta climate allows!) if it has deep and healthy roots, so too can our faith only grow stronger if we are deeply rooted in Jesus.

Of course, it is important to remember that roots don’t grow overnight (as my 2 1/2 year old can attest to; recently planted flowers can be uprooted extremely easily!), nor is it dependent solely on our actions and activities. Growth takes time. Often, roots grow deeper and stronger before there is noticeable growth above the soil. Patience is important. I can count the number of times my impatience got the best of me and I uprooted a perfectly healthy, solidly rooted plant because the “top-growth” didn’t meet my immediate expectations. I have also watched plants grow quickly, only to produce small, bitter and mealy fruit. The visible growth of the plant was majestic; the fruit it produced was pathetic. I learned my lesson very quickly. It is a lesson that I must continually refer to in my own journey: the reward is usually not visible at once. There is a process involved. God is at work – in tomatoes and people – growing, pruning, sustaining. Although it may not be immediately apparent, continuing to sink our roots deep into Jesus as the source of life will produce a rich and abundant faith that is both sustainable and can withstand whatever may come.

Though it is far too early in the season to plant out my tomatoes, it is never too early to begin the journey of actively nurturing our roots to grow down into Jesus. Perhaps it is as simple as faithfully spending 15 minutes with the written and incarnate Word of God each day. Or maybe it entails 10 minutes of intentional silence in His presence. It might be a period of intense and devoted study. Or it may be a season of sacrificial service to another. Roots can be nurtured and developed in many ways. What is important here, is that our roots continue to grow down into Jesus and our lives are built on him.

Shallow roots produce an unsustainable and unstable faith.

Shallow roots in a tomato plant produce a plant that can not withstand even the mildest of winds or rain. My yard has seen plenty of broken branches, damaged fruit and the odd uprooted plant, that wasn’t the result of the activities of a 2 1/2 year old. It has also seen numerous bent, contorted and twisted branches that remain attached to a healthy plant that is firmly rooted. When the storms of life rage and factors beyond our control batter us every which way, having shallow roots is a recipe for disaster. Shallow roots produce an unsustainable and unstable faith. We are easily uprooted, our growth is unsustainable, and often times we are damaged. When our roots are deep and healthy, finding their source of life in Jesus, we are better able to withstand the storm. We remain (somewhat) stable. We sustain in the midst of the storm. While we may come out the other side battered – bent but not broken; contorted and twisted but firmly rooted, we can heal and grow even stronger because of our deep rootedness in Jesus, who is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)

If roots are tangled – rooted in themselves and not the soil – they cannot take up water and nutrients. The plant wilts and eventually dies. If our lives are rooted in something other than Jesus, we wilt and spiritually decompose; often times insidiously. We desperately search for sustenance, but find the “soil” in which we are rooted is insufficient. We wither.

Deep and healthy roots grow stronger with the storms; those rooted in Jesus can both withstand and paradoxically counteract the storm. Much like my favorite tomato plants; what at first appeared to be a disaster, is in fact a lesson in perseverance, faithfulness and a radical “root” intervention.

Where do your roots find their source of life? How deep do they go? 


 

Sneezes & Jesus: Blessing Others

Sneezes & Jesus: Blessing Others

This is a re-post of a post originally written by Chris November 18, 2011 on his blog Sticks as Playthings.


It’s a bizarre little social expectation/superstition that dictates the issuing of a “bless you” after a sneeze.  I’m sure it started as some sort of medieval protection against the devil, or a way for the dignified upper class of the Renaissance to save face after a minor public display of bodily functioning.  The German “gesundheit!” makes more sense… my understanding is that it translates as “Good Health”, a lesson I gleaned while in the Frankfurt Airport, seeing anti-smoking posters signed by the “Gesundheitminister”, or Minister of Good Health.  “Good Health.”  I get that.  But “bless you” after a sneeze?  There are far more uplifting things we could say after a nasal explosion.

And yet I cling to the “bless you”.  It has been ingrained in me from an early age.  In my family, everyone said it after everyone else’s sneeze; cold & sinus season was a resounding chorus of reflexive ordinations.  A visitor to the Lantz residence could reasonably expect a bombardment of blessings – not by virtue of their worthiness, nor by virtue of our outstanding hospitality, but by virtue of their sniffles.  That was how it worked.

And there was power to the economy of the “bless you”.

I can vividly recall being upset with my Mom several times over some perceived injustices, and sure enough, several minutes later, she would sneeze.  In my great act of juvenile defiance, I would cross my arms, arch my eyebrows, purse my lips, and turn away dramatically in a manner that made clear, “your sneeze shall receive no blessing.”  It was damning.  I behaved this way with each of my brothers as well.  Were they being annoying in front of my cool friends?  For at least an afternoon, no gesundheits.  Did they lose my brand new road hockey ball?  Forget it… today, the blessings are withheld.  But fear not!  For in my wide and resounding grace, upon the morrow, thy sneezes shall receive verbal reciprocation.  My wrath lasts but an evening.

This, I hope you can see, is ridiculous.  But it highlights a neglected truth that I and many other Christians often fail to take seriously enough.

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Believe it or not, the Church exists to bless the world through God’s presence and power. Followers of Jesus are to be imitators of His life; imitating the life of Christ means actively blessing those around us with our time, our possessions, our rights, our energy, our abilities, our prayers, our money, our virtue, our Truth, our relationships, our love, and our lives.  What we have been given from On High (love, grace, justice, truth, daily needs) is ours to re-gift.

And so, if someone is in need of a coat, we bless them with the means to buy a coat; or (more perfectly), we give them our own coat and trust that God will re-bless us in return.  If our neighbour asks us to help them for an afternoon with moving some furniture, we lend them our pickup truck; or (more perfectly), we spend all day and night lifting from the knees and trust that God will re-bless us with the time and energy to get our own business finished.  If someone says something we don’t like about us, we hold our tongue against retribution; or (more perfectly), we talk it out with them and defend them despite the gossip.

In other words, when someone sneezes, we say “bless you”.  And then hand them our own personal monogrammed handkerchief.  (People still have those, right?)

This above-and-beyond type of blessing is commonly called “going the extra mile” for someone.  And the phrase “going the extra mile” is a direct reference to a teaching of Jesus about blessing others.  And this teaching about blessing others is in reference to blessing a certain type of “others”: our enemies.

In Jesus’ world, the Romans reigned supreme, and Jewish people were subject to their every whim.  A Roman foot soldier, exhausted during a long march or series of military excursions, could demand a ‘commoner’ to carry their gear for them.  Jesus says, in Matthew 5, that if a soldier demands you to carry his gear for one mile, you go the extra mile and carry it two.  This is significant because the Jews loathed the Romans, and felt no need to participate in their pagan military conquests.  From the perspective of Jesus’ Jewish audience, it would be like a Baptist preacher doing volunteer translation work for jihadist propaganda.  It would sound counterintuitive to first century Hebrew Galileans.  Aren’t they to organize a holy revolution against Rome, and defend Yahweh’s earthly kingdom of Israel against evil influence?  Shouldn’t the Romans be packing our gear across the Judean wilderness?

Several paragraphs up, I described situations in which the relationship is friendly, or at least neutral.  The giver of the blessing is in the position of power; naturally, if someone is asking for something, or in need of something, then they are situationally powerless.  People are generally willing to see the virtue in this, and will sometimes go out of their way to bless others in this manner.

But what if the tables are reversed?  What if the giver of the blessing does so from a position of powerLESSness?  Isn’t it a greater act of love to shower blessings on those who persecute us, harm us, demean us, berate us, and hate us?

 

Jesus says this in Luke 6:

 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” (Luke 6:32-36)

Blessings in the face of injustice and broken relationships; blessings on the razor’s edge of abuse; blessings absent of gratefulness and reward.  It’s an insane teaching, but completely in line with the life (and death) of Jesus.  You bless them above and beyond what they deserve, desire, or demand.  This should be easy for me, seeing as I have very few people seeking to harm, hurt, or embarrass me.  I am, fortunately, incredibly blessed (must have sneezed a lot as a kid) with very few genuine enemies.  And yet the call to bless others abundantly (especially those we disagree with, or who annoy us, or hurt our feelings, or offend our sensibilities) flies directly in the face of my oh-so-human lusts for vengeance, power and comfort.  To be a Follower of Jesus’ Way is to turn cheeks, lay down rights, offer necessities, go extra miles, and embrace the rain that falls on the just and unjust alike.  Our first response to whomever we encounter (sneeze or otherwise), is Bless You, whether we feel they warrant that blessing or not (because really, what have I done to deserve the blessings I’ve received?).  Bless your enemies.  Love them – don’t hate them.  Love them.  Then you will be called children of the Most High.

That means the next time Zoey sneezes while she’s busy telling me off, you will almost certainly hear a (quiet and clipped) “bless you” coming from her Daddy’s lips.


You can read more from Chris here

What Is Lent All About – Part 2

What Is Lent All About – Part 2

Special thanks to Dr. Stan Helton:


“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.” (Matthew 4:1–11 NRSV)

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LENT is about repenting, reorienting, recalibrating and realigning. Lent provides an opportunity as we approach Resurrection Sunday to bring our lives more in sync with Jesus. Reflecting on the temptation of Jesus (see the Scripture above) provides resources for this time of penitence and prayer.

 

Henri Nouwen in In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership made the dynamics of  Jesus’ temptations real for me. Jesus responded to each temptation with Scripture; more specifically, Jesus quotes texts from Deuteronomy 6-8.

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Deuteronomy 6-8 tells how the “newly minted” nation of Israel was tested in the wilderness; and how at each test the they failed to trust God.

Now comes Jesus’ turn. He too is tested but each time he successfully deflects Satan’s overtures. Where Israel, the nation, had failed, Jesus the Son will succeed. Part of Jesus success was that he knew the story. Because he knew the story of how Israel had failed the test, Jesus knew exactly what he was facing. Now that we have both stories, that of Israel and of Jesus, we know what we need to do when tempted.

Nowen reframes each temptation so we can hear them better. The temptation to turn stone into bread is the temptation to be relevant. The temptation to jump off the temple to be caught by angels is the temptation to be sensational. And the temptation to possess all the kingdoms of the world is the temptation to be powerful.

Each of these are a real temptation because we are all tempted to focus on what we want more than anything else. When we speak of being relevant (particularly in church life) we generally have in mind that notion that if we were more relevant, more people would be interested in church. So the conversation becomes what we need to do to please people and that is where this becomes a problem. Recall another story: when Aaron, the high priest, made a golden calf for the people. The golden calf was relevant but the golden calf was not God.

Each of us have felt the desire to be sensational. Drama Queen seems to be an art form for some today. How often do we walk the line between “doing our deeds before others” and “doing our deeds before others so that they might see our Heavenly Father.” Jesus could have stepped off the pinnacle of the temple and floated down to the earth impressing all those who saw him. However, as with the stones, Jesus understood that making himself important or impressive works against the mission of God. All three of the temptations partake of the attitude that it’s-about-me.

Finally, the desire to be powerful is so “natural” that in our culture we assume that is what people should aspire to be. Jesus could have had the whole world without the cross! That is what Satan is offering. However, the way of power without the cross is not the way of God. To be powerful is to bypass the way of suffering and the gospel is clear that for Jesus suffering comes before glory. Those who would follow Jesus must learn this, too. As the apostle Paul will say later when we are weak, we are strong (see 1 Cor 4:10; 2 Cor 10:10; 12:10; 13:9).

So what is the meaning of Lent? Well, that depends on what you want to do with it. Let me encourage you to use this season as a time to repent, reorient, recalibrate, and realign your life with that of your Lord Jesus. Let’s resist the temptation to be relevantsensational, and powerful and simply moving into being who God has called us to be.


You can read more from the virtual desk of Dr. Helton here.

What is Lent All About – Part 1

What is Lent All About – Part 1

Special thanks to Dr. Stan Helton:

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.” (Matthew 4:1–11 NRSV)

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LENT was originally not a religious word at all. A Teutonic (Germanic) word meaning “long,” it was used to refer to the lengthening days of spring. The word was passed through Anglo-Saxo into English, and finally used to translate the Latin quadragesima (“forty days”) which imitates the Greek name for the season of Lent, tessarakoste, or fortieth. So that is why we call this season Lent.

By the fifth century, church authorities assumed the practice of Lent went back to the apostles. However historians have noted that, in the first three centuries, churches were quite diverse in their practice of the fast before Easter. The fourth-century church historian Eusebius cites a letter from Irenaeus (late second century) who states that there was much confusion over the fast that came before Easter. Some thought it should be one day, others two, and yet others thought forty hours (day and night) as the correct amount. Later when Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History, which contains the letter from Irenaeus, was translated from Greek into Latin, the translator punctuated text so that last group fasted for forty days, not forty hours. So, interestingly, Lent became a forty-day preparation for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

If you would like more information about the origin and development of Lent, see the Catholic Encyclopedia, available online at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09152a.htm.

“And though every day a man lives may rightly be a day of repentance, yet is it in these days more becoming, more appropriate, to confess our sins, to fast, and to give alms to the poor; since in these days you may wash clean the sins of the whole year.”

– St. John Chrysostom – “The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers”


You can read more from the virtual desk of Dr. Helton here.

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