Review of ‘The Good of Giving Up’ by Aaron Damiani

Aaron Damiani, The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent (Chicago: Moody, 2017).

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, a 40-day season of fasting formalized by the Council of Nicea is A.D. 325, though based on precedents from the second century onward. Lent is observed by many, though not all Christians. Indeed, during the Reformation, Protestants objected to the way the Roman Catholic Church had turned Lent (and many other Christian traditions) into a form of works-righteousness. Some Reformers worked to restore Lent to its original purpose (e.g., Anglicans and Lutherans), but others dispensed with it entirely (e.g., the Reformed and Anabaptists).

As a Pentecostal, I belong to that wing of the Reformation that dispensed with Lent (and many other Christian traditions) entirely. And yet, over the past few years, I have found myself fasting something for Lent—whether a food item or an activity—to focus more closely on Jesus Christ. Not only that, I have found fellow Pentecostals picking up other Christian traditions that they find helpful to the life of the congregation. At church I attend, for example, we observe Advent the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.

Please don’t misunderstand me! Pentecostals have no biblical obligation to observe Christian traditions. Both Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul warned about the potential abuse of human traditions. To the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus said, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions” (Mark 7:8). And Paul said, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

By the same token, however, the Bible doesn’t prohibit Christians from observing traditions simply because they’re traditional. Jesus himself, for example, participated in “the Festival of the Dedication” (John 10:22), better known to us today as Hanukkah, a festival that celebrated the dedication of the Jerusalem temple in 164 B.C. and thus came into being well after the final book of the Old Testament had been written. Similarly, most Pentecostals hold special services on Christmas and Easter, even though the New Testament nowhere commands us to set aside December 25 or one Sunday in spring to commemorate Jesus’ birth and resurrection, respectively. The crucial question of any tradition is whether, to use Paul’s language, a tradition is based on merely “human tradition” or “on Christ.”

With that in mind, I’m happy to recommend Aaron Damiani’s The Good of Giving Up, a short book about Lent. Damiani is an evangelical Anglican and pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church in Chicago, Illinois. The book is published by Moody Publishers, a reputable evangelical book company also in Chicago. Damiani divides his book into three sections: (1) “The Case for Lent,” which includes answers to common evangelical objections to Lent; (2) “The Path of Lent,” which focuses on making Lent a season of focused fasting, prayer, generosity, and confession of sins; and (3) “Leading Others through Lent,” which offers practical guidelines for leading children and congregations through the Lenten season. Throughout the book, he focuses on how Lent helps us better experience the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he is very attentive to the work of the Holy Spirit in helping us fast, pray, give generously to others, and confess our sins. As a Pentecostal, I was especially heartened by repeated references to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Again, no Christian is biblically obligated to observe the tradition of Lent. Even so, Aaron Damiani shows why this season of prayer, fasting, generosity and confession is a good idea, and how you and the church you lead might put it into practice.


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P.P.S. This review is cross-posted at

#InfluencePodcast with Alicia Britt Chole

As executive editor of Influence magazine, I have the privilege of interviewing Christian leaders on a wide variety of topics. Here’s my podcast interview with Alicia Britt Chole, author of 40 Days of Decrease. The focus of this podcast is decluttering the soul by means of fasting, not just fasting food, but also fasting unChristlike attitudes and actions.

Review of ’40 Days of Decrease’ by Alicia Britt Chole

40-days-of-decreaseAlice Britt Chole, 40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger, A Different Kind of Fast (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016).

Sometimes, it takes a crisis to force us to think deeply about life, what matters most, what deserves our best efforts.

Alicia Britt Chole (pronounced SHOW-lee) opens her new book with a personal health scare. “A high fever, a few scans, multiple masses, possibly a lethal abcess…the specialists convened, conferred, counseled me to cancel all engagements and began cutting.” Doctors released her from the hospital eight days after surgery. One specialist said, point blank, “At this point, I give you a fifty-fifty chance that the organs will come back online.”

For a woman in the prime of life, with a thriving ministry, a loving husband, and a young family, this crisis wasn’t good news. Looking back, however, Chole wouldn’t trade it for the world. “Little did I know,” she writes, “that the pain was under assignment: it was making room in my life for another operation well beyond the reach of any surgeon’s scalpel.” The Divine Surgeon was operating on her soul.

Christians are rightly concerned with the state of their souls. “We all guard against sins of commission and we are vigilant toward sins of omission,” Chole writes. “But achievements—even in small doses—can make us vulnerable to sins of addition: adding niceties and luxuries to our list of basic needs, adding imaginations onto the strong back of vision, adding self-satisfaction to the purity of peace.”

40 Days of Decrease was written to help us fast such sins of addition in order to see the way of Jesus Christ more clearly. It is an exercise in decluttering the soul. Rather than fasting physical necessities or material luxuries, however, it leads readers in a fast of spiritual and emotional add-ons, such as stinginess, spectatorship, accumulation, revisionism, and escapism.

After a brief Prologue and Introduction, Chole devotes a brief chapter to each of the forty days of the fast. Each chapter contains a devotional based on Jesus’ life, a reflection question, a suggested fast for the day, a sidebar about Lent, a Scripture reading, and a blank page for journaling your thoughts. Chole recommends using the book with a group for better outcomes.

40 Days of Decrease was designed to be used during Lent, the traditional forty days of fasting leading up to Easter observed by Catholic, Orthodox, and some Protestant churches. As a Pentecostal, I don’t think Lent is obligatory. (Chole also is Pentecostal, and like me, an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God.) I do think, however, that concentrated periods of prayer and fasting are a good idea with ample biblical precedent. Jesus Christ himself observed a forty-day fast at the outset of His ministry (Luke 4:1–2), after all, and we are not better than Him.

Whether you use 40 Days of Decrease at Lent or some other time of year, it is nonetheless a book worth reading and an exercise in fasting worth making.


P.S. This article first appeared at

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Who Jesus Is. How We Should Respond. (Mark 2.13–3.6)

No one enjoys conflict, but sometimes is helpful if it clarifies choices we need to make.

Mark 2.13–3.6 records four conflicts Jesus had with Pharisees. over (1) eating with sinners (2.13–17), (2) fasting (2.18–22), (3) picking grain on the Sabbath (2.23–28), and (4) healing the sick on the Sabbath (3.1–6). Each conflict clarified Jesus’ identity and mission, as well as our response to him.

First, the conflict over eating with sinners (2.13–17): Jesus called Levi son of Alphaeus to follow him. Levi was a tax collector. Then as now, no one likes a tax collector. In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were considered thieves at best and traitors at worst. The Romans hired locals to collect the taxes. Whatever amount the locals could collect above and beyond the required sum was their salary. The surcharge made them thieves. The fact that they worked for a foreign empire made them traitors. But Jesus made Levi a disciple anyway, and ate at his house. Seeing this, the Pharisees asked, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Answer: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Second, the conflict over fasting (2.18–22): The spiritual regimen of the Pharisees included fasting. But they never saw Jesus’ disciples fast. They asked him why. Jesus responded by saying, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.” In other words, fasting is appropriate when you have occasion to mourn, but not when you have occasion to rejoice. Jesus’ presence with his disciples is always an occasion to rejoice.

Third, the conflict over picking grain on the Sabbath (2.23–28): The Law prohibits working on the Sabbath (Ex. 20.8–11). When the Pharisees saw the disciples handpicking some grain one Sabbath, they accused them of lawbreaking. Jesus responded by reminding them of 1 Samuel 21.1–6, when David “entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he gave some to his companions.” As far as Jesus was concerned, his disciples had done nothing wrong. (1) “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” His disciples were hungry and needed to eat. (2) “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” In other words, if David could “violate” the Sabbath, then Jesus—who was a king greater than even David—could do the same, making him Lord of the Sabbath.

Fourth, the conflict over healing on the Sabbath (3.1–6): According to some rabbis, on the Sabbath, you could administer only enough aid to a sick person to keep him from worsening. If you helped him get better, you had worked on the Sabbath, thus violating the commandment. This legalism made Jesus angry. “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” The answer is obvious.

Who is Jesus? The Great Physician of sinful souls. The Bridegroom who calls us to a life of joy. The greater than David. And the Healer with power to do good. How should we respond? With repentance, joy, obedience, and good works.

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