I love this picture taken from the Bellagio Hotel on the Las Vegas strip. It is a picture of the Jockey Club (white building on right), an old condo village which has been here for a very long time. The new 8 Billion dollar City Center recently built by MGM (which includes thousands of hotel rooms and condominiums) had wanted to buy the Jockey club, tear it down, and build their new center. But to do that all the owners of the various condos in the Jockey club had to agree. Three held out and didn’t sell. Because they would not sell, the MGM corporation had to build the 8 billion dollar city center around the Jockey club– in Nevada you cannot force someone from their home. It was an example of perseverance in Vegas.
Now I don’t know all the reasons as to who held out or why, but I do admire that kind of tenacity and determination– to not give in even when there is a corporation offering large incentives to give up what you hold dear.
Today is the first day of Lent– Ash Wednesday in the traditional church calendar. Lent is not a Catholic ritual, it is a Christian tradition which is followed by many various denomenations. Growing up, I heard little about lent, and I think that is because my protestant heritage had tended to give up all practices which even hinted of being saved by doing something on your own. But lent is an observance– a remembrance– of Christ’s death on the cross. It is a preparation for that, and a time when Christians try to remember the suffering of Christ, and His single minded purposefulness to serve God.
I believe all of us can relate to the struggles of trying to keep our single minded devotion to God in the midst of a distracting and busy lifeworld. Lent is a time when we are called to pay special attention to our calling in Christ, and to recommit to being disciplined to the things of God. The reason for doing this is not to gain favor with God (although we hope to make Him happy and honored and blessed through devotion) but rather, to become more fully Christs so that He can use us as He wills. To not practice Lent because it is from the Christian tradition is like rejecting hymns or Christmas or Easter because it is from the Christian tradition. Lent is one Christian practice which has not become commercialized yet, so it is still relatively free of that mire.
Lent is a time to persevere– to push ourselves, even to suffer just a bit, to identify with Christ and help reorient ourselves. It is also a time to build up discipline– think of it like Spring training to get your will into shape so that you may be stronger to do the things God calls you to do.
For these 40 days leading up to easter, people often give up something they love– like Chocolate, or cigarettes, or coffee, or beer, or pie, or movies, or TV or eating out. Many will fast regularly. The goal is not merely to suffer though. The goal is to help us identify with the sufferings of Christ, so that we can more fully realize how much He loves us and what He has done for us. The devotional practices have a purpose– and that is to grow in our love, understanding, and perseverance for Christ.
Last night was Mardi Gras, which is famous as “fat tuesday”– the day of partying. But many who celebrate Mardi Gras don’t pay any attention to Lent. Some of us who celebrate Lent don’t pay attention to Mardi Gras either. Las Vegas is a great place to see Mardi Gras celebrations– but the same is not true of Lent. Las Vegas is not a lenton kind of town. Its not a town of patient perseverance, generally– rather, it is a town of quick cash via gambling, getting what you want now, not holding back your inhibitions, and letting it all hang out. Las Vegas is, in some respects, Mardi Gras daily (in terms of its popular image anyway).
So this week as I am in Las Vegas, I am beginning Lent. I am giving up french fries and chips, fast food, and a few other things, as well as committing to serious exercise at least 4 days a week. I am also recommitting to praying for those in my church (simple free) daily.
I would encourage you to consider practicing Lent this year. If you do, ask God to speak to you in new ways, and to draw you closer as you try to draw close to Him. I hope it will be a blessed season for you as we approach Easter.
may God have mercy on us all.