I wonder.  How many of us “gave up” something for Lent?  So far during this Lenten season, I have given up bungee-jumping, chicken- plucking, space-walking, and cliff-diving.  You may laugh at that, but, I wonder.  As laughable as my answers are to the question of what I have given up for Lent, I wonder if they might be more honest than what many people answer when asked the same question.  “What have you given up for Lent?” they ask.  And we answer, “Sodas.  Chocolate.  Cell phone.  Cussing.  Television.”  Here is what’s on my heart: if we come to Easter and find ourselves chugging soda with a half-empty Whitman’s Sampler balanced on our lap while we are cussing out the person on our cell phone who is interrupting our television show, have we truly given up anything or have we only postponed certain actions and activities for a while?  Please don’t misunderstand.  I am not being judgmental.  I firmly believe that these small and temporary sacrifices can fine-tune our hearts for the larger sacrifices our faith will demand of us.  I’m just wondering out loud.

        I suppose I am thinking about words like “sacrifice” and “self-denial” because I find myself asking some hard questions this Lent, questions that haunt me.  When was the last time I made a real sacrifice because of my love for Jesus Christ?  A financial gift equivalent to a widow’s mite?  A spiritual sacrifice of turning the other cheek when it was the last thing I wanted to do?  A gift of time offered to something difficult, something to benefit anyone other than myself, when there were so many other things I’d rather be doing?  When was the last time I truly denied myself for the sake of a cause greater than myself?  How long has it been since I last showed love and compassion to a stranger?  Let me tell you something: these kinds of questions make giving up sodas and chocolate look easy.  And will allowing these questions to bounce around in my soul bring me closer to God?  I wonder.

        And the biggest question of them all: with all of my failings, all those times and places in my life when my faith has faltered and my courage has abandoned me, how is it that God continues to love me so very much?  I wonder.  And I rejoice!  Pastor Steve