Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I Gave Up Coffee for Lent…Then I Took It Back (Part II)

I wanted to do this blog in two parts. The first part, in order to really explain where I was at, was all about me. The second part I would like to be all about Jesus and what He did on the Cross…to the glory of the Father. I do want to mention that I set my alarm clock to get up early enough to spend at least an hour with my husband this morning before he left, however something else woke me up an hour before my alarm went off. Instead of being grouchy and trying to go back to sleep, I was able to connect with my husband for about two hours this morning. We were able to talk about schedules, some counseling we have been doing, some heart issues I have been struggling with, and how to work through some other issues that need confronting, all while cuddling. It really was a sweet time.

When I was weighing the decision yesterday to drink coffee, my first instinct was to go to a place of “I am letting God down” mentality. Quickly I heard the admonishment, “this does not change how I see you and do you think you can do anything at all?” My choosing to give something up for Lent is a personal decision to show reverence and honor to God. I am not big enough “to let God down”, that cheapens the cross. Although my motivation for observing Lent was not to win favor with God I do believe I fell into a prideful stance that I could somehow win favor with Him.

We are studying The Great Exchange (My Sin for His Righteousness) by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington during this Lent season. The book unpacks the atonement from every angle and perspective. Here is an excerpt from the book unpacking Galatians that I would like to share:

Legalism occurs whenever a sinner attempts to earn God’s favor by his or her personal righteousness instead of by Christ’s transferred righteousness. Legalism demands the value of Christ’s work of atonement by requiring sinners to perform activities that are man-centered and, in essence, man-exalting. Even subtle, unspoken legalism sets forth a course that inevitably leads to spiritual pride and eventual defeat under the weight of unsuccessfully attempted law keeping. By substituting man-centered performance as the basis for acquiring righteousness the very essence and foundation of redemptive truth is compromised. In this epistle, Paul shows that the atonement is the sole basis of man’s forgiveness, righteousness, and acceptance by God—nothing can or should be added.

Wow, that is truly a humbling truth. There is nothing I can do to add to what Christ did on the Cross and to assume otherwise is prideful and arrogant. Christ’s death on the Cross was magnificent, awesome, and sufficient.

I cannot win favor, earn his love, or do any good at all in my own ability or strength. The fact that I have any ability at all comes from His righteousness imputed to me. He stood in my place and fully received God’s entire wrath that I fully deserved. I am not worthy, thank God!

The Ebenezer stone is a reminder of God’s promises, His eternal covenant. 1 Samuel 7:12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.” We often talk about what our Ebenezer is during this season and what has been nailed to the cross. Today, my Ebenezer is that Christ’s death on the cross in place of me not only saved me from the wrath of God but perfectly allows me to stand before God, holy and right, as He imputed His righteousness to me. Today I am reminded that my performance, my ability, and my self-righteousness were nailed to the cross.

Monday, March 8, 2010

I Gave Up Coffee for Lent…Then I Took it Back (Part I)

Our family celebrates the Lent season every year. Not as a religious activity but a time to sacrificially give up some form of comfort and a time to feast in the Lord. It is our Ebenezer, a time to remember fully what Christ our Lord did on the Cross on our behalf. We should and do remember this all year but in celebration of Easter we love to amp this up considerably.

The first season we celebrated Lent was in 2005 and I had just started a new job at Starbucks Corporate. We had decided to give up food! We only consumed juices and clear broths; however our cheats were cream of chicken soup when we were really feeling tired or depleted. I remember my interview at Starbucks was the first day of Lent. I went in with a bottle of water and was too nervous to ask for more. By then end of my six hours of torture, I mean interview, I had an unbelievable migraine. I rushed out of there not feeling too well. On the way home I was so sick but so determined to make it home before surrendering. The minute I turned down my street I lost it and puked all over myself. I did not even have time to pull over and open the door. The rest of the season went well and I made it all the way to day 35 before totally giving into Red Robin!

Unfortunately I made that season more about weight loss than sacrificing and feasting in Christ. Also, already having a disturbed and confused metabolism I gained all that weight back plus another 25. I think I skipped Lent the next year. Since then I have modified my fasting to abstain from sugar, bad carbs, etc. I usually do make it about fasting from some type of food as that has generally been where I find my comfort.

This year when my husband asked the household what they were giving up I was a little at a loss. The last six months have been a complete change in lifestyle for me. I have lost a significant amount of weight and have really changed all my eating habits. I eat mainly organic whole foods. I, for the most part, avoid any processed, packaged, or canned foods, including flours, sauces, condiments, and dressings. I even finally weaned myself from all artificial sweeteners, soda, and things I am allergic to like sugar, dairy, and garlic. I do not look to food for comfort nearly as much as I used to because the foods that bring comfort are not something I want to put into my body. So what could I give up?

I really thought that if I did not give up coffee, which used to be a Venti Sugar Free Vanilla Breve Quad Latte, my husband would give me a hard time. So I made the ultimate sacrifice and decided to give up coffee, not caffeine but coffee. Coffee brings me great joy and satisfaction. I love to wake up to it, to warm up with it, to smell it, to know that anytime of the day I can find joy in it. I even love drinking a cup of decaf in the late afternoon. I of course added sugar and bad carbs to the mix to keep me from any occasional indulgence I may be tempted by.

To be honest, my heart has not been in it. I have not feasted in Christ. We do a daily study on the Atonement and I find I am rushing at the last minute to read my six pages to do the study with my family. I have not felt any need to depend on Christ. Honestly I have not felt like I was going to freak out without coffee although I have had a horrible headache (good indication of physical dependence). I have willed my way and just not thought much about it. I somehow have not felt I was doing this sacrificially or for Jesus. I woke up this morning and decided I was just going to have coffee. I do not feel like I needed it or I was going to die without it. I have not felt joy, so what’s up?

I went this morning and got my Venti (unsweetened/dairy free) Americano. Ah, joy! Ok, now really what’s up as I know my joy does not come from Espresso! Then it hit me! Since I quit working full-time in 2006, I have spent just about every morning enjoying 2 cups of coffee spending time with my Lord and Savior. It has been a sweet time for me. Sipping my coffee and either praying, conversing, reading, or worshipping. Since I have not been drinking coffee, I have not been enjoying that time with God. Instead, I am trying to find other moments in the day to connect and do my study. Often I am choosing time when others are around and it feels chaotic. My heart has not had the solitude and quite to hear Him. I have felt distant from Him but that did not make sense to me as I know He does not go anywhere.

I gave up coffee to please my husband. He is so passionate about the Lent season and a time to renew and remember what Christ did. I chose something for him, not Jesus. In turn, I sacrificed something far greater than my comfort. I sacrificed my peace and joy, Jesus. I sacrificed precious time with Him for the sake of pleasing man.

Since Lent began, I have had a nagging sense that my procrastination and laziness are destroying me. I have been consumed with all the things I cannot get done. I have procrastinated taking care of important personal matters and seemingly insignificant ones like mailing rebates on time. I get to a place of being so overwhelmed that I become paralyzed. When my husband asked me this morning what I would give up in place of coffee the first word that came to mind was procrastination. How do you give up procrastination and is that really sacrificial? When I really unpacked it I found that it is absolutely the most sacrificial thing I could give up.

As I mentioned the last six months have been a complete change in lifestyle for me. Losing a significant amount of weight and taking care of my body has allowed my overall activity, energy, and productivity to double if not more. I am more active than I have been in six years. I am on the go a lot; I have a lot of responsibility between a part-time job and overseeing several ministries at church, plus working out at the gym. We also have an extended family as we have opened up our home to two gals who intern at the church. As we do not like the idea of having “roommates”, we try to be very intentional in fellowship and living life together. All of this has given me a spirit of entitlement to “me” time which usually entails sitting on my bum or sleeping. I am not a big fan of TV so sleep is usually far more appealing to me.

I do have a lot of time where I could be taking care of personal matters, such as keeping bills organized, filing rebates on time, getting my documents and files in order. These items overwhelm me greatly and cause me to feel paralyzed. When I am paralyzed, I shut down, sleep, and go numb. I withdraw relationally. There are days when my entitlement kicks into overdrive and instead of going to the gym which is what I really desire; I chose to sit down on the couch and nap. My naps are generally filled with interruptions and are anything but restful. I wake up grouchy, dissatisfied, and guilty that I did not choose doing something beneficial or productive.

I think the biggest repercussion of my procrastination and laziness is the effect it has on my relationship with my husband. Being overwhelmed and my defense of shutting down include a great amount of sleep. Since my husband’s schedule is so crazy, my only time to really connect with him is late evenings and early mornings. Our evenings are usually spent connecting as a family. Either by our study, dinner, gym, or watching our favorite shows on TV. The only way to not sacrifice that time is to be intentional with each other after everyone goes to bed. By then, I am looking at how many hours of sleep I will be getting if I do not go to sleep immediately. I could be more intentional and get up a little early, not five minutes before I need to run out the door.

I experience Christ through my husband a lot. I would not truly know Christ today the way I do if it were not for my husband. Christ has worked through my husband in great ways. I have been hurt deeply by the people closest to me and have been abandoned and betrayed by many. Christ has redeemed relationships for me by my husband’s refusal to abandon or betray me and in his pursual of my heart. He has fought hard to win my heart and show me the love of Christ even when I refused to see. During this Lent season, I have avoided both my husband and my Lord. I have not been willing to sacrifice my comfort of sleep for the sake of relationship and intimacy.

So when I looked at what giving up procrastination and laziness for Lent meant, that was my neon sign. If I was diligent to just accomplish a few small tasks instead of napping or checking out and was willing to give up an hour of sleep every morning, I would have meaningful intimacy with my husband and Jesus. Giving up coffee sacrificed the wrong things and did nothing for my heart. Sacrificing my entitlement allows me to feast in both my husband and my Jesus.

To be continued…