The Joy of Glory

Discovering endless joy in the boundless glory of God…

Tag: holidays

Lent: Repentance, Fasting, and Ashes?

Today, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of Lent…a 40 day season. If you’re thinking the math doesn’t work…don’t forget that Sundays don’t count. They’re treated like mini-Easter celebrations.

I grew up without even hearing the word “Lent.” As a matter of fact, when I first heard it I thought someone was talking about “lint.” Imagine my confusion. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with Lent and find yourself wondering what all this talk of repentance, fasting and ashes is about…what does it all mean?

Lent
lentLent is meant to be a season that prepares our hearts for the celebration of Easter, much like Advent prepares us for Christmas. Traditionally, such preparation has been sought through focusing on repentance and fasting, which often makes people think Lent is a sad or depressing season…and nothing could be further from the truth!

Repentance and fasting should lead us to JOY in Jesus! Lent should to lead us to the joy of Easter! But, how exactly does that work?

Repentance
repentanceRepentance reminds us that we are sinful and in need of a Savior.  Without a Savior, we would be left under the just penalty of sin…which is death.  We need someone to defeat our sin by dying in our place…and…we need that person to defeat death by rising again. In other words, we need Jesus…we need Easter.

Focusing on repentance reminds us that we need Easter.

Fasting
imagesTo many, fasting seems like and outdated ascetic practice reserved for medieval monasteries. How does fasting engage our hearts and reveal our need for Easter?

Fasting, typically, involves removing something that is normally present in your life.  Most commonly it is food, but people also fast from social media, television…nearly anything…but the point is we remove something that leaves a void. You notice that it is gone, and yet, life goes on without it. Our life didn’t depend upon that thing after all.

Fasting reminds us that we are not truly dependent on the things we think we are and helps us realize that we are dependent on Jesus! As our body hungers for food to satisfy our stomach, we are reminded that the only thing that can truly satisfy our deepest hunger, the hunger of our souls, is Christ! He is the one we need…the one who died and rose again to quench the thirst of our hearts and satisfy the hunger of our spirit with himself!

Fasting reminds us that we need Jesus…we need Easter!

And so, after focusing on repentance and fasting for 40 days, by the time Easter gets here, we erupt in celebration that Jesus has conquered our sin and become the satisfaction of our souls!

 Ash Wednesday
ash-wednesdaySo…repentance and fasting are meant to point us toward our need for Easter…but, what is up with the ashes? How does Ash Wednesday help us start this journey towards the joy of the empty tomb?

Ashes are symbol of repentance.  At SVCC, when I put ashes on people’s foreheads I speak the words, “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.”

These words and the ashes remind us that the penalty of sin is death…that we must return to dust.  We need to repent and turn from our sin to our Savior.  And, that is why I do not only speak the words, “From dust you came to dust you shall return…” but that phrase is followed by the instruction, “So repent…and believe the Gospel.”

The Ashes remind us of our sin and it’s penalty, death…but, using them to make the sign of the cross reminds us that we have a Savior to turn to who has defeated sin and death! We use dust, the sign of our deserved death, to make a cross, the sign our death is defeated. It is a beautiful picture of the Gospel. It is a beautiful reminder that repentance is meant to lead us to the cross…to Jesus…to joy in him.

Now there is nothing magical about the ashes. They are a symbol of what is actually taking place in our hearts, namely, that we are acknowledging our sinfulness, repenting, and turning to trust in Jesus.

Without a heart of repentance and faith ashes merely give you a dirty forehead. Yet, when united with a heart of repentance and faith, this external symbol is a powerful means through which God reaffirms what has happened to you… that your death and doom to dust has been conquered by Christ!

This Lent, embrace that truth by faith. Let all your repentance, fasting and ashes lead you to the same place…to the empty tomb where we embrace the resurrected Jesus by faith!

Let Lent lead you to Easter!

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Why the Haefs don’t “Do” Santa… (It’s Not What You Think)

Appalled.

That’s the word I would use to describe the general reaction of people when they find out that my family doesn’t “do” Santa Claus.

Now before you go and judge me or think that I am an extremely judgmental-grinch trying to steal the fun of Christmas for children everywhere…allow me to explain what led to the Saint Nicholas censorship in the Haefs household.

I grew up in a home that observed all the typical Santa traditions… stockings, chimneys, reindeer, letters, milk and cookies… you know how it goes. Holly’s family didn’t pay Santa much attention, but neither was he actively discounted. Now, both of us have wonderful childhood Christmas memories, and do not feel like “exposure” to Santa traumatized either of us. So, you would think we would naturally have no problems with continuing Santa traditions with our children. That was the original plan… at least for me.

santa-clausAs Holly and I became more serious in our relationship, we had more serious conversations about our future, including marriage and children. Believe it or not, our largest disagreement was over whether or not we would “do” Santa with our children. I was in favor of Papa Noel…she was not.

Now what was her concern and what won me over to her side? It was not anything you might have heard before…like the fact that “Santa” can be rearranged to spell “Satan,” or that we were worried that if we lied to our children about Santa they would think we lied about Jesus too…no…those things didn’t have any bearing on our decision. There was actually one central factor that changed my mind about Kris Kringle…

Time.

I only have so much time with my children…only so much time to invest in them…only so much time to show them what is important…only so much time to point them to Jesus.

The Christmas season gets so cluttered and crowded with things that do not matter. I already find it difficult to point my kids toward Christ when there are so many other things are begging for their attention. I simply did not want to add and promote another distraction. In the list of things that were important to me at Christmas time…Santa simply lost.

Now, this leads people to ask me a million questions and I want to try and address what are probably the top three most frequently asked. If you have additional questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment section and I’ll do my best to answer.

1. How do you shield your kids from Santa?
We don’t. We want our kids to be knowledgeable about the culture in which they live, able to interpret it and engage it. So our kids are very aware of Santa…in fact they sat on his lap last night at the Brookwood mall. At this point, you might be confused. Here’s the deal…they know Santa is pretend (like a cartoon character), but they still enjoy him as much as they do any other character in a costume (think Mickey Mouse). We let them watch the same cartoons that we did growing up (claymation Rudolph, The Grinch, Frosty, etc) and they are welcome to sit on Santa’s lap…but, in their minds, he is merely on the periphery of the season and nowhere near the center.

For instance, if you ask my kids why they receive presents…Santa will be the furthest thing from their minds. They’d tell you that we give and receive gifts as a reminder that Christmas celebrates the giving and receiving of the greatest gift…God giving his only son Jesus to be received by the world.  I promise you, this makes Christmas morning no less “magical.” If anything…it is more “magical.” I mean…we are celebrating God taking on flesh! A man scooting down chimneys simply cannot compete with that. Santa, the pretend guy, gets to be on the outskirts of Christmas, but Jesus gets the center. This naturally leads to the next question.

2. What do you do in place of Santa?
st_nicholas_myra_500We technically still include Santa…just in his proper place…December 6th. That is the feast day of the real Saint Nicholas. On that day, we tell our children about Nicholas’ life and do a few small things to celebrate his feast day.

That still leaves people wondering what we do throughout the rest of December and especially on the 25th. Well, we observe Advent as a family. Each day, we try to set aside to time (usually at dinner) to light our Advent wreath, read Scripture, and talk about what it means that Jesus came and he will come again. Advent is a season of waiting and longing for the coming Messiah…the greatest gift. Thus, Christmas works as a perfect teaching analogy as your kids wait and long for the coming of gifts.

We still sing songs (primarily about Jesus), go look at Christmas lights (reminding us of the coming light of the world), decorate a tree (much like Jesus would make a cross/tree a beautiful symbol), etc.  We simply try to make Jesus the center of all these traditions.

On Christmas day, we read Luke 2 and open presents. We try to limit the amount of presents to stem the tide of materialism. Each child receives three plus small stocking items…yes we do stockings. How do we explain how they get filled? You know what’s funny?…our kids have never asked that question. Limiting the number of gifts also frees up funds to teach our children how to be generous by example. We spend the rest of the day celebrating, eating, laughing, praying, playing…it looks like a pretty normal Christmas day actually…we just talk about Jesus instead of Santa. It really isn’t complicated. Actually…I believe it is less complicated.

3. Do you think “doing” Santa is harmful and that other people should make the same decision you have?
This is always a fun question…because my answer is yes and no. I believe there is a way to “do” Santa that can be potentially harmful, but it doesn’t have to be. If people want to “do” Santa with their kids, I would NOT insist that they make the same decision that my family has or they’re wrong, but I would encourage them to “do” Santa in such a way that points their family toward Jesus.

Here’s what I mean. The traditional concept of Santa stands in direct contradiction to the gospel, which is the heart of Christmas. Santa keeps a checklist of who is naughty or nice…and so you need to work hard, behave right so that you can be rewarded with gifts. This is not the gospel…it is works based righteousness…legalism. Our kids are already hard-wired legalists…they don’t need us reinforcing their natural bent. Christmas…the gospel…grace is designed to counter and contradict legalism. God sent his son to an undeserving world to save us. We were given this gift freely. We could not earn it. We were all on the naughty list and Jesus took our lump of coal so that we could have an eternal gift…him!

If you are going to do Santa, then brainstorm/imagine/dream/think of ways to use him as a pointer to Jesus…a pointer to the gospel…a pointer to grace.

A Nagaland Father’s Day…

*In 2010, I was on mission in India during Father’s day. The following is a reflection I wrote shortly after what I experienced that morning…

Being away from your family stinks. Being away from your family on Father’s Day really, really bites. Thus, I found myself throwing a pity party as I sat down on the back row of Naga Christian Fellowship in Pune, India… nearly half-a-world away from my beautiful wife and two, precious, little ones.

It was hot and humid inside the old church building. The sound of the worship leader was being pumped through a system that was not fitted for the room we were in, and, as a result, I couldn’t really understand anything that was being sung or said. I found it hard to focus, so my mind occupied itself with thoughts of my family.

I was completely oblivious as to what was happening when the Pastor called for all the fathers to come to the front in order to be recognized. My friends immediately began encouraging me to go forward, but I declined… of course this was nothing more than a sulking expression of my self-pity… in which I was wallowing.

Then, Eddie Aldape, the father of the missionary family with whom I am staying, motioned for me to follow him down the center aisle. What choice did I have now? I hobbled out of my row and began the long, dreary walk to the front of the room. Each step was fraught with agonizing pain as I had just completed a fundraising 100km-walk-a-thon the day before. Further, I was embarrassed to be standing in front of complete strangers… I simply felt out of place.

Then everything changed…

Naga spearsA young Naga girl approached me with a pin of some type. I thought to myself, “Great! A stereo-typical Father’s Day flower.” Yet, as she pinned it upon my shirt I could tell that this was no flower. There, attached to the top of my shirt-pocket, were two decorative spears fastened across one another. Eddie leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Those are Naga spears.”

“They’re what?” I asked. Eddie repeated himself and began to explain to me the meaning behind the small pendant that was resting upon my chest.

Nagaland is a state of Northeast India. The Naga people were originally tribal headhunters and were greatly feared. In the late 1800’s there were a number of missionaries trying to travel into China, but were prevented for one reason or another. Instead of giving up, many brought the gospel of Christ to the people of Northern India.

Some of these missionaries set their hearts upon the headhunters of Nagaland. Without regard for their own lives, these men and women of faith took the Gospel to people who normally removed the heads of outsiders. They shared the love of Christ and the message of the Gospel… many Nagas believed.

As I stood at the front of that church, hearing that story… my eyes were slowly opened to what was truly happening in that room. There I stood, before a gathering of nearly 400 Naga believers lifting their hearts to the one true God… and the reason for it all was pinned upon my chest.

Because faithful men and women of God took the gospel into the midst of danger… because they did not count their lives to be of greater value than the furtherance of the gospel… because they abandoned all this world has to offer for the sake of Christ… because they did not fear the spears of the Nagas… because God worked through them by his power to bring many Nagas to faith… because of all of this, I was in that place… over a hundred years later… caught in the midst of rapturous worship with Naga spears, now a symbol of friendship, fixed over my heart.

I began to fight back tears as I heard a chorus playing softly in the background… “Thank you for the gift you gave.” This song had been playing since I left my seat, but I had not noticed its lyrics until that moment. My heart cried out to the Lord… “Yes! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for the gift you gave! Thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus, whom you gave for the world! Thank you for the gift of the missionaries you sent to the Naga people! Thank you gift of my brothers and sisters with whom I am worshipping right now! Thank you! Thank you!”

My attention was brought back down to earth for a moment as I heard the Pastor read from Psalm 22:4, “In You our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.” He began to talk about how great of a testimony it was for David to be able to proclaim such words about his forbearers and we should desire that our children be able to say the same of us.

While I greatly appreciated the thoughts he was sharing, my mind journeyed in a slightly different direction. I began to praise the Lord for my faithful fathers in the faith. For those who have taken the gospel in to the deepest, darkest, and most dangerous places on earth. I stood among a church whose very existence testified to the faithfulness of my spiritual fathers… and more importantly… their presence testified to the faithfulness of my heavenly Father.

He is faithful to use his Gospel to transform people… He used it to transform Nagaland… and He has used it to transform me.

In that moment… I realized that I was not away from my family on Father’s day… I was standing in their very midst. I am nearly brought to tears now, in the midst of typing, as I think about the astounding reality that I am eternally bound to these believers through the one Savior of all mankind, Jesus Christ. I have never felt the bond of spiritual brotherhood so strongly as in that moment. Jesus’ words from Matthew 12, which I had read that very morning, flooded into my mind…

“‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”

I was completely overwhelmed by the sense of family in that room. I still missed my wife and children, but now I missed them for a new reason. I did not miss them because we are bound together on some molecular level by DNA… no. Now I missed them because the very blood of Jesus Christ has cemented our hearts together as part of a world-wide spiritual family with one Father over us all. My heart longed to share this moment, this reality with them.

The Pastor prayed for all of the fathers standing before him and we headed back to our seats. I found that I couldn’t quit looking at the two small spears resting upon my shirt. In them I saw an eternal bond that I shared with these people I barley knew… and I now felt a new, deeper bond with those to whom I am the closest.

I walked all the way back down the aisle, but now I had forgotten the pain in my feet… my mind was occupied with thoughts of my beautiful wife and two precious children. I felt as though my love for them had grown deeper in ways that I did not think possible. At the same time, I was overwhelmed by the fact that this newfound love seemed to be spreading outside of biological boundaries and engulfing all of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I shuffled down my row… no longer thinking of myself, for my pity had been replaced by joy. With my stereo-typical smirk, I sat down… surrounded by my family.

 

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