A reason to celebrate Lent

Published 10:59 pm Friday, March 22, 2019

By Ross Reitz

Lent has traditionally been the time that Christians have abstained from some form of food or activity so that we can focus more on God, preparing to celebrate the miracle of Christ’s death and resurrection.

However, for some parts of the church, taking time to give up meat, chocolate, video games or movies has become considered old fashioned. In fact, parts of the church have even arisen to state that giving up immediate pleasure for the sake of God is wrong. One television pastor even preached, “Anyone who tells you to deny yourself is from Satan.”

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For those of us who strive to follow the words of Christ, this pastor’s statement presents quite a problem. Jesus taught, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

Of course, Jesus promised his followers that there would be people who would come into the church and distort his message. The problem is this pastor who indicated that Jesus is Satanic is not simply an unknown huckster from somewhere no one has even heard of. Instead, she is a very prominent speaker among evangelical circles, and has been praised by multiple evangelical leaders and the heads of evangelical universities. She was even the first woman to offer a prayer at a presidential inauguration.

A recent columnist in the Suffolk News-Herald recently encouraged us to share our faith. At one time, this meant to let people know that every one of us has sinned and hurt others in our selfishness. Yet, because this sin hurts others and eventually hurts us ourselves, God, who loves us beyond what we can believe, sent His Son Jesus to die for us and take our sin away. If we choose to believe in Christ and accept his sacrifice for us, we can have a new life. God will change us slowly from the inside, and He will slowly take out the anger, the pride and the jealousy that make us hurt others. As we follow the teaching of Jesus, we will become less selfish and be able to deny our own desires, so that we can love others more. In doing so, God will fill us with His Spirit, and He will give us joy and peace, even in difficulty, and will give us the ability to love others, even when they hurt us and talk bad about us.

However, slowly, that message has become changed. Instead of acknowledging that we all have sinned and all have a desire to be selfish, even if it means hurting others, we now talk about how our problem isn’t that we’re selfish but that we need a purpose. Jesus no longer came to change us, but instead to help us get what we want by fulfilling our purpose.

Instead of a faith that makes us less selfish and more willing to love others, we have a faith where God wants us to have more. Instead of a God who leads us to reach out to others in need, we have a God whose main desire is for us to have fun. Instead of learning about the men and women of the church who risked everything to let others know about Jesus, we dress up like superheroes for church, and we make being happy more important than showing love. Instead of standing up for what is right, in 2017, our churches (the Southern Baptist Convention) twice voted that we cannot condemn white supremacy — though we did vote to condemn on the third ballot after the rest of the world found out we had twice voted to remain silent.

If Jesus really did die only for us to find our purpose and self-fulfillment, then the preachers are right: it is Satanic to deny ourselves. But if Jesus really did teach us to deny ourselves and even taught, “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:29), then we will have a faith worth sharing and a reason to celebrate Lent.

Ross Reitz has been a Suffolk resident since 2009. Prior to that, he taught the Bible in Africa for two years and spent six years as a teacher at a Christian school in Philadelphia, Pa.