Friday, February 10, 2017

Book Review: The Good of Giving Up

The Good of Giving Up. Aaron Damiani. 2017. Moody. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Aaron Damiani makes a case for Lent in his new book, The Good of Giving Up. In this one, he seeks to persuade readers from all denominations that Lent is a good thing, could be a GREAT thing even. The first part of this one focuses on the history of Lent, and, a little of the why you should observe it. The second part of this one focuses on the how--specifically how an individual can observe Lent. The third and final part of this one is how to lead others--your family, your church, etc--through Lent. He does admit that Lent can be misunderstood and abused. But he urges that just because people have the wrong ideas about Lent isn't a good reason to abandon this centuries old practice.

This one had some good insights:

  • In theory the gospel is compelling, but in reality we would rather pay attention to whatever Netflix is offering. We are so full on the junk food of our culture that we cannot metabolize the feast on our Easter plates.
  • We were made to look upward and outward with our imaginations to behold the beauty of God in Christ.
  • We are called to worship, but we have chosen to fantasize. We have exchanged God’s exhilarating and expansive story for lesser stories shaped by our fears, pain, and unhealthy desires. 
Here are a few reasons why he wants you to celebrate Lent:
  • The desert is where God called his people to make them holy. We might assume that the wilderness is a place of exile and isolation, and it certainly can be that. But in the story of redemption, the wilderness has always been a sacred rendezvous spot for God and His beloved sons and daughters. In the wilderness, we detox from our false attachments and renew our sacred, primal bond with our loving Father.
  • We enter the wilderness of Lent because the gospel is true. We do not go into the wilderness to find God. We enter the wilderness because God has found us. He has delivered us, blessed us, and called us His own. The desolation and quiet gives us space to ponder the great salvation we have already witnessed. Even our struggles and failures in the wilderness teach us the truth of the gospel. 
  • Lent, then is a profound picture of the Christian journey. It stands between our deliverance and our home. It is a time of faith and longing, hope and expectation. No, we are not ready for Easter. Not yet. But with the world behind us and the cross before us, we go repenting and rejoicing one faltering step at a time. 
  • We need Lent because repentance is not just a prayer. It is a posture. We need time and space to become repentant people, to experience the depths of Jesus’ forgiveness. Our default posture is to use Jesus’ forgiveness like we use the car wash: as a fast, convenient solution to a surface problem. The truth is that the cleansing process needs to go much deeper, like a thorough spring cleaning. It cannot be rushed. Lent provides forty days for us to behold Christ and His cross, not only to understand it more deeply, but also to cast our soul’s toxic waste upon it. I invite you to imagine Lent as a season when Jesus heals and restores what sin has destroyed in our souls, families, and congregations. The sermons, silence, and ancient prayers of confession during Lent all teach us a posture of gospel repentance.
Much of this book could be considered Lent for beginners. He explains just about everything including what it is and what it isn't. It is a very practical book in many ways.
A partial fast is distinct from repentance of sin. Do not take a partial fast from using pornography or sleeping with your significant other. Rather, confess your sin to God, receive Christ’s forgiveness, and take drastic, intentional steps to remove it permanently from your life. The same is true for any other sin, such as gluttony, racism, violent behavior, slander, envy, or deceit. A partial fast may help you repent of sin, but it is a different path altogether. A partial fast is not an addiction treatment program. If you feel powerless to break a dependence on alcohol, sexual activity, gambling, drugs, overeating, or any other vice, seek professional help from a licensed counselor and an addiction recovery program in your church or community. Also seek support from your local pastor and church family. There is hope! The spiritual benefits of observing Lent with the people of God will be a support and encouragement as you walk the road of recovery. 
If this is your first time observing Lent, keep it simple and make a short list of one or two abstentions that will challenge you without crushing you. Consider getting input from a mentor or pastor to ensure you set realistic goals. If you have already practiced the partial fast and are ready for more, then consider adding other items to your list.
Did Aaron Damiani convince me? Not really. Oh, I am glad to know that his reasons for celebrating Lent seem wholesome enough--biblical enough. To focus on Christ and WORSHIP him. Not to boast to anyone and everyone, HEY LOOK AT ME, I'M GIVING UP SOMETHING FOR LENT!

Here's where we agree, I think: Drawing near to God is good. Seeking the LORD is good. Spending time in prayer and Bible reading is wonderful. Applying what you read to your life is great. Give of yourself--not just financially but your time and resources. Live in God's presence and REJOICE in the resurrection.

Here's where we disagree, I think: The focus of Lent seems to be on the 'giving up' something. I don't think that is where the focus should be. I think the focus should be on what you're gaining. It isn't the giving up of something that makes for a richer spiritual life. It is the realizing that Jesus is BETTER than anything you have going in your life. The wrong way to do Lent is to give up something without gaining anything in return, or to gain something merely temporarily. The right way to do Lent--to do life--is to make Jesus your ONE THING and let that love of Christ rearrange your daily schedule forever more.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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