February 23, 2004
Encouragement for Today
Dinner Mint or Breaking Lent?
Rebecca Ingram Powell
Author and Certified Speaker
“Sin is no longer your master, for you are no longer subject to the law, which enslaves you to sin. Instead, you are free by God's grace.” Romans 6:14 (NLT)
One thing I’ve discovered about practicing Lent is that I must be specific. Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s best for me to write down exactly what I’m giving up. Otherwise, I tend to push the limit. My weaknesses are glaring during this season as I look for ways out of the box I have made for myself. For instance, if I give up desserts, does that mean no doughnuts for breakfast? Believe me, these questions arise and can create quite a controversy.
One year, my husband agreed to fast from sweets because I was doing it, and he knew that would make it a little bit easier for me. He laughed at me when I showed him my “Lent list” and told him that while desserts included sweet drinks, like slushes and frozen cokes, breath mints would be acceptable for the sake of each other as well as our friends and family. He didn’t understand my need to be so specific. However, he soon realized what I was trying to accomplish when we went out for dinner one night. Our server brought us each a candy mint along with our check. These mints were the kind everyone loves: the little rectangles of green mint on one side and chocolate on the other.
As she carelessly dropped them on the table, Rich and I looked at each other. We’ve been married long enough to know each other’s thoughts. “It’s a breath mint,” he said flatly, picking one up.
I shook my head. “It’s chocolate.”
“You said mints were okay,” he argued.
“Not if it’s a dessert mint for after dinner,” I countered.
“When else do you need a mint?” he asked.
“If I wait ten minutes and eat it in the car instead of at the table, would you still consider it a dessert mint?” he pressed.
I had to think about that one, and then I remembered the chocolate. “You can’t do that,” I replied, “because of the chocolate.”
“Well,” he paused, “I could just eat the green half of it.” That got us both tickled, laughing at our silly conversation. Talk about splitting hairs!
Our mild debate reminded me of the Pharisees, a group of religious leaders among the Jews at the time of Jesus. In the New Testament, the Pharisees were experts at splitting hairs—dividing and multiplying the Ten Commandments until there were literally hundreds of laws to obey. They hated Jesus because when He came along, He told the people that God wasn’t about laws but about love. In fact, Jesus reserved His harshest words for these hypocrites who had relegated the Jews to yet another place of bondage: rules-oriented religion. I believe that the Ten Commandments are some of the most liberating words of the Bible. “Don’t murder, don’t steal, and don’t lie” are laws that make our world a much nicer place to live. But the Pharisees had taken God’s laws, and in an effort to avoid any loopholes, they had added ritualistic details. They covered everything from how to wash your hands to what side of your body to sleep on. They were constantly trying to trap Jesus into committing blasphemy by coming to him with questions and accusations over trivial things that had to do with their man-made laws.
Jesus knew they did not practice what they preached. He rightly accused them of hiding behind their rules and avoiding truly righteous behavior. The Pharisees followed tradition before they followed God. Because of their obsession with their religion, they did not recognize the Messiah, who followed every letter of the law with grace and dignity yet never wavered from following the love of God at the same time. While the people were burdened with the restrictions and rituals leveled at them from their leaders, Jesus challenged the Pharisees. He called upon them to forget about their images and outward appearances and focus on the attitudes of their hearts. They were sorely lacking there. Jesus’ ministry brought hope because the salvation He offered was not based on doing good works or keeping all the laws. It was not centered on anything that man could do at all. It was the gift of a loving Father who did everything for us through Jesus Christ His Son and asks in return that we believe in Him. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
This season of Lent is a great reminder of Christ’s sacrifice. Perhaps it is possible as well for this “ritual” in which we voluntarily participate to remind us that in Christ, we are free indeed—free from tradition and religiosity and self-imposed rules that He does not require. If you’ve found yourself confronting some “Lent loopholes,” you’re not alone. Let those situations prompt you to pray for those who are still looking for the Messiah among the rules and regulations of man.
My prayer for today:
Dear Father, Thank you for the freedom that comes only through Jesus Christ. I know that I will never be perfect. Thank you for my Jesus, who is Truth and Beauty and Perfect Love. Show me how to get past my own religion and dig deeper into a love relationship with Christ. Amen.
Focus today on the attitude of Christ by keeping your mind on Him in every situation. What would Jesus do?
Are you guilty of putting Christ in a box of your own making?
What is your attitude toward your husband today? How can you replace a negative attitude with a loving one?
Do you know someone who thinks Christianity is a rules-oriented religion? How can your life show her/him it’s really about a relationship?
Romans 6:6, “Our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.” ((NLT)
Romans 6:14, “Sin is no longer your master, for you are no longer subject to the law, which enslaves you to sin. Instead, you are free by God's grace.” (NLT)
Romans 6:22, “But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life.” (NLT)
Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NLT)
1 Corinthians 1:18, “I know very well how foolish the message of the cross sounds to those who are on the road to destruction. But we who are being saved recognize this message as the very power of God.” (NLT)
Radically Obedient, Radically Blessed by Lysa TerKeurst
The Power of a Simple Life by Mary Southerland
P31 Woman Magazine by Proverbs 31 Ministries
Originally published Monday, 23 February 2004.