Sacrifice, or Mercy? – A LentProject Perspective

On February 13, 2013 by Eddie

For those of you that are beginning the Lent Project along with us, welcome! If you are new to the idea, check out the homepage for more information on how to get connected. Check back here tomorrow morning, and we’ll have the next day’s reading posted. In the meantime, every once in a while we’re going to hear a “LentProject Perspective”. These will be small reflections from a variety of different voices about what the Lent season is about, and encouragements on ways to personally engage.

Today, we’re hearing from Tim Cooper, a great friend, husband, and dad, and the leader of our Starting Point ministry here at North Point. Tim is exploring the idea that we hear about most with the Lent season, the idea of sacrificing or giving something up until Easter. I love his perspective on this common practice, it encourages us to stop asking “What should I give up?” and begin asking “What should I give away?” I don’t think there’s a better way for us to start this journey together…

We’ve all done it. We’ve been the type of Christian that we don’t want to be— judgmental. We have trusted our instincts over what we know God would have us do. And yet, in spite of our poor choices, we find a loving God who helps us see our mistakes in a light that actually draws us to a more intimate relationship with him. For some of us, this is what makes Lent so attractive. It’s a chance to reconnect, and ultimately reconfirm the type of relationship with God that we want to have every day of the year.

So, if our desire is to keep this as the central guide of our lives, and we continue to fall short, why would Lent be any different? Is there a frame of mind that we can gain in order to make sure that this commitment is actually a consistent benefit to our relationship with God?

In Matthew 9:9–13, according to the Pharisees, Jesus had acted especially reckless. He invited a tax collector to follow him. Now, it would be one thing to call a lowly fisherman to be his disciple. But to ask the person who was a constant reminder to the Jewish nation that they were not free but under Roman control was unthinkable. To the Pharisees, Jesus was too intelligent to have accidently done this, so he must have been aligned with the enemies of the Jews. Why else would he be so willing to be with “those” people?

In Matthew 9:11 they asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” They could not conceive why Jesus would converse with those oppressors, the ones who required a large portion of their hard-earned money. Jesus’ direct answer to their question gives us a glimpse into the heart of God, but can also give us something to aim for as we embark on this journey of Lent.

You see, what we can assume about the Pharisees is that if they were around today, they would LOVE Lent. Their practice would put our efforts to shame. They would proudly sacrifice a limb or even oxygen for the sake of God. They would do so without thinking twice, while calling us out for our weak efforts. And we think giving up sugar is a sacrifice.

But Jesus’ answer makes me think that he isn’t impressed with the grandness of their gesture. In verse 13, Jesus says to the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” What? I thought Lent was all about sacrifice. So, can I eat sugar now?  

The truth is that we could never sacrifice enough to impress God. Lent, at its core, is a season of dependence. And this dependence on God reminds us that we too sit in the seat of the sinner. Until we recognize this, we will never understand how to receive and extend this type of mercy. In this passage, Jesus calls the “kings of sacrifice” to something higher, better, and deeper—to actually love the unlovable, the sinner . . . the enemies. It’s a posture of the heart that the Pharisees never understood and sadly, what some modern-day Christians still miss.

Entering into this season of Lent is an honor. The act of giving up something to deepen our relationship with God is something that I hope marks us as believers for the rest of our lives. So let’s go into this season resonating with Jesus’ words as we ask ourselves: If we sacrifice everything and do not end up loving people more, what have we gained?

My hope for you, and for me, is that no matter how successful or unsuccessful, rich or poor, that we would walk every day aware of our dependence on God. And that this season of Lent wouldn’t just be a few weeks of sacrifice, but a catalyst of living each day with this conviction—to love everyone.

– Tim Cooper

What small change could you make to lean toward mercy? How can “giving something up” for Lent actually be a spiritual practice, and not just a ritual for you? Feel free to discuss in the comments below, and we’ll meet up tomorrow morning for day 2 of the Lent Project.


2 Responses to “Sacrifice, or Mercy? – A LentProject Perspective”

  • The Lenten journey can be a deeply formative process. A call to conversion… that allows us to embrace both the pain and promise of easter. However, coming up with an answer to the age old question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” can be quite daunting, even intimidating. Unfortunately, all to often, our inability to keep our fast results in guilt, frustration, and an abandoning of the journey altogether. If you feel that you may fall into that trap, I have found that by simply and prayerfully committing to a time of prayer, scripture reading, meditation, and reflection… you will begin to naturally “fast” from certain activities that would hinder you from joining Christ on his way to Golgotha. Remember…. Lent is less about you GIVING UP SOMETHING, and more about you GIVING IN TO SOMEONE. Enjoy the ride.

  • I have always tried to attach an idea or thought to what I’m giving up. Sometimes I’ll even come up with a phrase associated with this idea that’s easily remembered. Then in those moments when I miss what I’ve given up, this physical experience draws me into this thought or idea. I’ve noticed if I’m not intentional in this way the sacrifice becomes selfish not selfless.

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