Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Loving God More Than Timbits

Last week I wrote of my decision to observe Lent by fasting one day a week over breakfast and lunch (A Lenten Neophyte).  I made the decision on my way to work a couple weeks ago.  Already tardy with my decision, I wanted to begin right away.  I decided to forego the breakfast and lunch I had packed and jump right into my first fasting day.

I work as a supervisor of a convenience store, though when I say that I suspect that you have in mind your corner Speedy Mart.  This convenience store is bigger than most.   Inside is a deli and brick oven pizza shop.  Recently, we added to our food service offerings by opening a Tim Horton’s within the store.  All of these fall under the umbrella of my supervision.

On this day, the Tim Horton’s staff was running behind.  The store was open and the donuts were still being made.  I passed the display case and said to the Tim Horton’s manager, “Where are your raspberry filled donuts?” noting the empty tray.

“I’m working on it, Phil.” she replied.

“That’s too bad” I said, in jest “I was going to get a couple.”  A subtle reminder that you can’t sell anything off an empty tray.

I got busy doing other things. When I got back to my computer, I found a little baggie with three raspberry filled Timbits waiting for me.

My first fasting day.  No food till dinner.  But I have a horrible weakness for donuts.  (I’m making excuses already, before I’ve even confessed.)  I can discipline myself to not buy any, but when they are left at my computer as a token of penance for empty donut trays they trump my own Lenten token of penance.  I ate the Tim Bits.  Not even 8 o’clock in the morning and I broke my fast. 

Guilt set in, even before I licked the powdered sugar from the corners of my mouth.  How could my resolve be so weak? How could three Timbits so quickly derail my spiritual discipline of fasting?  How could I be swayed from my decision with such trifles; Lenten suffering set aside for deep fried, jelly filled, powdered sugar encrusted dough balls. 

In the book of Hosea, God compares his love for the nation of Israel to the Israelites love of raisin cakes. “…the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.” (Hosea 3:1). Parallel uses of love, gratingly disproportionate. God loves Israel, Israel loves raisin cakes. 

Why raisin cakes?  Remember, this was written before the development of refined sugar. There was no Hostess or Little Debbies, Cold Stone Creamery or Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, Oreos or shamrock shakes.   If they wanted a taste of sweetness, their options were limited.  Honey or fruit.  Raisin cakes had both.  This was their desert, a morsel of sweetness in an otherwise bland diet, a special treat whose aroma in the oven would bring the kids running.  This is as close as they had to junk food. 

And this is singled out as the object of their affection.   God loves them; they love desert.  The contrast is jarring.  The incongruity is outrageous.  And it touches close to home.

I had determined to enter into the suffering of Christ with my meager act of self-deprivation.  Jesus offered his life, I would offer two meals.  And this small sacrifice was deemed too great in the face of three powdery donut holes. God loves me and I love Timbits, the modern day upgrade of the Israelite raisin cake.

So I staggered out of the gate.  My first day of fasting didn’t last very long.  But sometimes we learn more in our humiliating stumbles than in our graceful strides, This would give context to my fasting.  In the aftermath of my failure I could sense God posing a question, a loving rebuke, “Do you love me more than Timbits?”  I am ashamed at my initial answer.  But since then I have carried that question with me.  Fasting days are now not just about denying myself food and entering into the suffering of Christ.  They are also an expression of love, a demonstration that I love God more than I love any tasty treat.

So I’m back on the wagon, two successful fasting days under my belt.  But even in success God is teaching me lessons. I’ll have more to say about that in my next post. 

I’m still interested in hearing of your experience of Lent.  Leave it as a response to my blog.  Or e-mail me directly at  To those who have already replied, I enjoyed reading your responses.  Thanks for taking the time.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Lenten Neophyte

I decided to observe Lent this year.  The decision came one day last week on my drive to work.  I know I’m a bit late to this decision, as Lent began almost two weeks earlier, but I hadn’t given it much thought before then.   For much of Christendom, participation in Lent is assumed.  But I attend a Baptist church where Lent does not register on our ecclesiastical calendar.  Not even a blip on the radar.  You see, we tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  The Reformation rid the church of indulgences.  For Baptists, Lent got swept out in the wake.  We suffer for it.

Lent is a season of preparation; a time when Christians prepare for Easter with a forty day period of self-denial.  We enter into the suffering of Christ with some small measure of self-imposed sacrifice.  Some would consider it a form of penance, but because of the sacramental baggage that penance carries, I think of it as a reminder.  My deprivation does nothing to earn my forgiveness, but it does remind me of the great suffering of Christ upon which my forgiveness rests.  When I give up something of value, that deprivation will interfere with my life and disrupt my routine.  This disturbance gets my attention and points me to the cross.  It is the string on the finger as a reminder of the nails in the wrists.  It’s a reminder I need.

When I was a pastor, we held a Good Friday service each year.  I was always startled by how poorly the service was attended.  I couldn’t understand how one of the most sacred days of the church year was largely ignored by my Baptist congregation.  Christians who stake their eternal salvation on the passion of Christ wouldn’t spend even one hour in fellowship with the Christian community for a service to honor that sacrifice.  Each year I left the service wondering if it was worth the effort of planning for the handful that came.  It seems we won’t even embrace one day of reflection on Christ’s suffering, let alone forty.  Forget Lent.  We’ll rush right past Good Friday to Easter.

Our Good Friday service was, admittedly, a sober service, more reflective than celebrative.  But sometimes sober is what we need – space to sing the melancholy hymn “Where You There When They Crucified My Lord” before it is drowned out by the bombastic “Up From the Grave He Arose.”  In fact, the loud celebration of Easter may well be enhanced by the still sorrow and quiet wonder of Good Friday…and Lent.

Today was a glorious day in Central New York – sunny and mid 60s, the perfect weather.  I set aside my plans and opted instead for a long walk with my wife.  I felt compelled to be outdoors.   I suppose if everyday were like this we’d begin to take it for granted.  But part of what makes this day so glorious is that it comes in early March. There was still a bit of snow in our yard at the start of the day.  It has been a mild winter by Syracuse standard, but it’s winter all the same. Mild for Syracuse is still more severe than most.  We’ve had our share of snow and ice, harsh wind and bitter cold. But in thirteen years here I have learned that spring is more glorious when it rescues us from winter.  The contrast with the harsh cold makes the warm sunshine that much sweeter. 

Our ignoring Lent is like wanting spring without winter.  We love to bask in the victory of Easter.  We don’t particularly enjoy entering into the deprivation of Lent.  We’re tempted to put all our eggs in the Easter basket.  But Lent sets the stage for a more intense contrast.  It is a self imposed winter.  It is preparing my heart for Spring.

So I have decided to fast.  My fasting will be modest, even meager.  But remember, I am a Lenten neophyte.  One day a week I will forgo breakfast and lunch.  In no danger of starving, it will still be enough for me to experience hunger.  My stomach will growl and my appetites will groan.  These will be the reminders of a suffering far more intense.      

I’ll have more to share about Lent in the weeks to come.  As I’ll share in my next post, I stumbled out of the gate, but have since gotten my feet under me.  I am learning much about myself that I look forward to writing about.  But in the meantime, I am interested in your experience of Lent.  Some of you readers are far more experienced in this than I.  I’d love to hear how you observe Lent and what it means to you.  Leave it as a response to my blog.  Or e-mail me directly at  I look forward to hearing from you.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Whispering the Glory of God

I’ve just returned from a four mile run.  I am one of those who run for pleasure.  I find a hard sweat therapeutic.  Fresh air clears my lungs and my mind.  The accompanying endorphins are a mildly addictive stimulant - this introvert gets downright gabby after a good run.  It’s good for me – not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.  It makes me a better person.

Unfortunately, it has been a difficult season for running.  A severely sprained ankle at the tail end of summer and a mysterious ache in my lower back in the thick of winter have sidelined me for most of the last few months.  Only now am getting back to some light running.  I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I logged a few miles.

I live in a neighborhood well known for its network of paved trails -  trails that snake their way behind homes, through woods and wetlands, along streams that open into occasional ponds, touching the Seneca river for a moment.  Each season paints these vistas with a new color palette, beautiful in its own right.

Today, the paintbrush was loaded white.  As I left my house, snow was just starting to fall, each flake a work of art, unique in design, intricate in detail, an expression of God’s creativity.  I know this from elementary school science lessons and art projects involving folded paper and scissors.  Truth is, this is beauty that will go largely unnoticed.  These mini ice sculptures are too many and too fragile for my appreciation.  God makes them unique for his own pleasure. 

Here in the flurry I don’t notice the flake because I am caught up in the squall. These tiny works of art are being flung from the sky with excess.  Snow is falling with fury.  These are large, heavy flakes, obscuring my vision and coating all that is solid in a suit of white.    And here I am, running through this wintery blast with exceeding pleasure.  I am watching the painter as he works his canvas, transforming the dull browns of winter thaw into beautiful white.  Gradually, the landscape is being coated.  This is a wonderful moment to be running.  Like I am watching something special.

As I run, the heat of exertion and the cold of the atmosphere are entwined in perfect balance – a cooling sweat.  Mouth open with heavy breathe, I get a steady patter of flakes on my tongue, a delightfully cool moistness.  The sound is near silence.  Only the barely audible tap of collision between flake and this body in motion.  As I round the pond that my house abuts, I pass two geese strutting with majestic necks and deliberate steps, their bellicose honking silent in the stir.  Even they won’t disturb this moment with unnecessary noise.  Seems they save their voice for the hours before dawn when I am trying to sleep.  Here, in this moment, the world is in whisper, all voices in agreement – creation declaring (in a hush) the glory of God.

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