I tell myself it is worth the trouble

This year we are attempting to do some Lent devotions as a family when possible. It is a somewhat stumbling effort, but the kids do seem to like it and even our three-year-old is getting the idea, or at least he likes the candles!
For us the best time to do a ‘God talk’ in this format is immediately after dinner while everyone is still at the table and the kids have not yet switched into jungle hour mode (totally hyped, loud, disobedient and cranky). Some evenings the meal doesn’t end neatly however, and bringing everyone back to the table and settled becomes quite a challenge.

To plan my devotions I use the reliable and scientifically proven organisational approach called last minute rush. In this case flicking through the gospels in my Bible looking for a Jesus story that isn’t too long, can be explained to a six-year-old and I haven’t used in the last couple of weeks. Tonight my background accompaniment was middle child having a melt-down over a lost homework book, with boisterous boy playing melody and strains of tired ten-year-old on strings.

Then I couldn’t get the first candle to light (the one in the photo – can you see why?) and little boy decided  he needed to help me. He was most indignant when I refused to give him a lit match! He was correct in assuming I needed help.

By the time I said ‘amen’ we had everyone together around the table.

Our carefully chosen (ahem!) passage for this evening was Matthew 21:18-22, leading to discussions of how large a splash mountains would make on landing in the sea, the meanness of Jesus in killing a fig tree, and how cool it is that God can make impossible stuff happen.

With a young family and me doing shift work, our attempts at devotions are erratic at best. Yet even when it seems the kids are not paying any attention and we are all tired, I convince myself it is worth the hassle. I just pray my children find good churches when they are older with pastors who can straighten out their bizzare theology!

In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.
When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
(Matthew 21:18-22 ESV)

Bowed in gratitude this Lent

Until now I have never really celebrated Lent. I have been a Christian for over 20 years but the richness of this season has been unknown to me.
In recent years the desire to cultivate meaningful family traditions for my children has led to learning more about the seasons of the Church calendar and looking for ways to incorporate these into our family life.

As we walk stumblingly through Lent and I focus my heart on this season of preparation I am seeing deeper into the promises and anticipation of the redeeming work of Christ. His grace of accepting, cleansing and purifying me shines greater as the cross looms ever nearer.

I am also learning gratitude and thanksgiving is at the heart of this season:

In the season of Lent, the Church encourages us to “master our sinfulness and conquer our pride,” but we are to do this within the context of thankfulness. The deeper appreciation for what God has accomplished in Christ, the greater our gratitude. The sacrifices we make are simple ways of expressing thankfulness. God only asks us to accept his love in Christ Jesus. (The Little Way of Lent, Father Gary Caster)

Marching into Lent with candle in hand

Advent wreath

I did not grow up in a Christian home. The number of times I went inside a church as a child can be counted on one hand and although my Mum did make some early attempts to teach my older sister and I some of her Catholic faith that didn’t last long.
I became a Christian when 18 years old, single, with no kids. My first child changed my life when I was 32 and had already spent over a dozen years as an adult learning about God. Also, none of the churches I have been a member of use a liturgical calendar so there are elements of church traditions I know very little about.

So while I understand how important it is to teach my children about God and model faith to them, I have very little idea how to make it happen in practise. My wife and I are slowly gathering various ideas which we try out, adapt and use as the basis of faith-filled family traditions. Fortunately with young children it only takes several repetitions for them to gain an expectation for such stumbling traditions to continue.

With this in mind I ordered one of Caleb Voskamp’s Advent to Lent wreaths in October last year, unfortunately too late for it to arrive before Christmas. After a 12 week journey across the Pacific ocean it did arrive last Saturday, in time for the Lent countdown to Easter.

With it’s beautifully finished oak spiral and figure of Christ hauling his cross, our wreath has begun counting down to the dawning light of resurrection at Easter.

I am excited to have this visual and tactile aid as we endeavour to incorporate the living symbolism of Christianity into our family life.

A purist might say that props should be unnecessary; I am simply filling my life with more stuff and indulging in the human penchant for replacing interaction with God with man-made traditions. My reply to this is that I know my weakness. Materialism is unnecessary but inevitable because I have a physical body living in a materialistic social framework. Therefore I manipulate this natural tendency such that my heart is turned towards God by the stuff in my life rather than away from God by the independence that comfort brings automatically.

The physical presence of a wooden spiral in the middle of our dining table with a candle and figure of Christ carrying a cross on it is already reminding me that there is a meaning to life far beyond the usual daily grind. That is gain.

Lent candles

He is risen

Cross

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”(Luke 24:1-7 ESV)

He has risen!

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
(Romans 8:11 ESV)

I also live because Jesus lives!

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
(Galatians 2:20 ESV)

O blissful rest

I must confess to enjoying a rather unspiritual delight this Easter – the prospect of four whole days off work is bliss! Not having to get up so early to trudge through the mourning routine, the chance to catch up on some jobs around home and being able to have time with my kids other than at the beginning or ending of each day when we are all tired and grumpy.

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus invites us into his rest, and really that is what Easter is all about – Jesus purchased rest for all of us on the cross (see also Hebrews 4:9-11). In his abundant blessing to us as a nation initially founded on christian values he has also provided a short national holiday for us each year to remember his world-changing work.

So, as I bask in the rest I am receiving now, I can also rejoice in the eternal rest I am given which yet awaits me.