How Natasha Owens used music to find God after father’s tragic death

Natasha Owens’ life changed in 60 seconds.

The singer’s father was cleaning his gun in 2010 when he missed a safety step and accidentally shot himself in the chest and died one minute later. The gun he had been using belonged to his brother who was murdered seven years prior.

Owens went into complete shock upon hearing the news of her father’s death.

“It was like I had punched the pause button to my life and I couldn’t quite get going again,” Owens told Fox News. “I went through shock and after the shock wore off, I downspiraled into a deep depression where I couldn’t get out of beds most days.”

The Texas native said she was “so angry at God” and questioned why He had taken her father’s life. So when her pastor asked her to be the church’s music minister, she practically scoffed at the offer.

“I was already going down a suicidal road,” she recalled. “It took years to dig myself out of the hole.”

Finally, on one hot Texas summer day, Owens was looking at her two sons and thought to herself, “You can’t die for looking back at what you lost, you have to live for what you have left.

“I remember smiling for the first time that day,” she told us. “I promised God that day that I would go wherever He wanted me to go and do whatever He needed me to do.”

It was then that Owens decided to pursue a career in music. She released her first album “I Made it Through” in 2013.

“The true mission of life, I feel, the purpose, or the reason why we’re made, is to help people along the way,” she said of her decision to make music.

She was inspired to release her second album, “We Will Rise” in 2017,” after realizing “when you make it through, that’s survival. But when you rise above, it then you thrive.”

The 41-year-old hopes her music will help others who are going through times of grief.

“Christianity and God [are] at the core and center of not only my life, but my family’s life,” she said. “I’m a Christian. I put that in every one of my songs. It’s our job to love, it’s not our job as Christians to judge.”

Faith & Fame is a regular column exploring how a strong belief system helps some performers navigate the pitfalls of the entertainment industry.

You can find Sasha Savitsky on Twitter @SashaFB.

DNA discovery identifies living descendants of Biblical Canaanites

DNA research is shining new light on the Biblical Canaanite civilization, which existed thousands of years ago in the Middle East.

The ancient civilization, which created the first alphabet and is mentioned frequently in the Bible, has long fascinated historians. LiveScience reportsthat, because the Canaanites kept their records on papyrus, rather than clay, relatively little is known about them.

Now, however, scientists have found a genetic ‘trail’ back to the Canaanites’ ancient world.

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By sequencing the genomes of five Canaanites that lived 4,000 years ago with genomes from 99 people living in modern day Lebanon, researchers identified a strong genetic link to the mysterious civilization.

The results surprised the scientists, whose work was supported by U.K. biomedical research charity The Wellcome Trust.

“In light of the enormously complex history of this region in the last few millennia, it was quite surprising that over 90 percent of the genetic ancestry of present-day Lebanese was derived from the Canaanites,” said Chris Tyler-Smith, senior group leader at The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, in a statement.

EXPERTS UNCOVER EVIDENCE OF ANCIENT JERUSALEM’S DESTRUCTION BY THE BABYLONIANS

In addition to the ancient Canaanite DNA, the analysis of genomes from the modern day Lebanese people also showed a small proportion of Eurasian ancestry that may have come from conquests by Assyrians, Persians or Macedonians, according to the experts.

The researchers also discovered that the ancient Canaanites were a mixture of local people, who settled in farming villages during the Neolithic period, and eastern migrants who arrived about 5,000 years ago. “Using ancient DNA we show for the first time who were (genetically) the ancient Canaanites, how they were related to other ancient populations and what was their fate,” explained Marc Haber, a genetic data expert at The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, in an email to Fox News. “Our work shows the power of genetics in filling gaps in human history when the historical records are absent or scarce.”

ARCHAEOLOGISTS UNEARTH 2,700-YEAR OLD RESERVOIR IN ISRAEL

Haber added that the results complement Biblical accounts of the Canaanites. While the Israelites are commanded to “utterly destroy” the Canaanites in Deuteronomy 20:16-18, Judges 1 describes the survival of a number of Canaanite communities.

Canaanites once lived in what we now recognize as Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The remains of the five ancient Canaanites studied as part of the DNA research were recovered in the modern-day Lebanese city of Sidon.

The research was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics on July 27.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Top Trump Cabinet officials take part in weekly Bible study class

Key members of President Trump’s Cabinet take part in weekly Bible study classes, according to a report by the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Regular attendees at the sessions include Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Agriculture Secretary Sunny Perdue, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

CBN’S DAVID BRODY ON THE FAITH OF DONALD TRUMP

Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions also attend when their schedule permits.

The sessions are led by Ralph Drollinger, a former NBA basketball player who turned to the ministry full-time after his injury-shortened career.

MEDIA RIDICULE PHOTO OF EVANGELICALS PRAYING OVER TRUMP

“It’s the best Bible study that I’ve ever taught in my life,” Drollinger told CBN of his pupils. “They are so teachable; they’re so noble; they’re so learned.”

Trump himself has a standing invitation to attend the sessions and receives a copy of Drollinger’s teaching every week.

Drollinger believes that his Bible study is the first to be held for Cabinet members in at least 100 years.

“These are godly individuals that God has risen to a position of prominence in our culture,” he said. “I just praise God for them.”

Why I am bullish on Christianity (yes, you read that correctly)

NOW PLAYINGFilm documents author’s journey from atheist to pastor

When atheists claim there is no evidence for Christianity, I disagree.

When liberal theologians assert there are many paths to heaven, I object.

When young people say God isn’t relevant in the 21st century, I beg to differ.

When analysts predict the decline of the evangelical church, I roll my eyes.

Are my positions popular? Maybe not, but they flow out of convictions that have only grown stronger in the midst of the evolving religious landscape in America.

I’ve seen the surveys. I’m aware of the rise of the so-called “nones,” who profess no religious affiliation. And frankly, that doesn’t trouble me very much. Rather than claiming to be Christians, as many have done in years past, now these people are now willing to be more honest. Today it’s socially acceptable — in many places even desirable — to be a skeptic. “Atheist” is no longer considered such a derogatory term.

The truth is that America was never as much of a “Christian nation” as some historians wish it were. There was a veneer of faith over the land. “Respectable” people went to church. Now they don’t pretend anymore. That’s okay.

I was a scoffer once myself, before spiritual skepticism became trendy.  As a law-trained journalist at the Chicago Tribune, I didn’t have any patience for mythology, superstition, or make-believe. “Just give me the facts” was my motto.

My wife was agnostic. Then one day, through the influence of a friend and a church, she met Jesus. The first word to come into my mind: divorce. As portrayed in The Case for Christ, the forthcoming movie based on our story, I set out to disprove her beliefs and rescue her from the cult of Christianity.

Oops. After nearly two years, the scales tipped. Having encountered the persuasive evidence for Christianity, I concluded it would have required more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a believer.

I ended up taking a 60 percent pay cut to leave my journalism career and become a pastor. For 30 years now, I’ve watched the world from the vantage point of a pulpit. What’s the view from there?

More and more people growing weary of our materialistic and celebrity-saturated culture and instead finding exhilaration in Jesus. The proliferation of ministries that help the hurting, feed the hungry, and replace despair with hope. Addicts rescued. Broken families put back together. Racial reconciliation. Selflessness displacing self-interest. While some churches are closing, many of those with a relevant and biblically faithful message aren’t just growing — they’re burgeoning.

In short, I’m bullish on Christianity. We’re entering a golden era of Christian “apologetics,” where scholars are sharing compelling arguments and evidence for the faith.

At the same time, our shrinking world has exposed more people to the stark differences between the world’s religions, and that is destroying the once-popular notion that they all teach basically the same thing or have similar grounding in truth.

I see throngs of young people electrified by their faith. Give me a hundred of them versus ten thousand with a cultural Christianity that doesn’t revolutionize their character or values.

Let me share a little secret. In our increasingly chaotic world, the Christian message of truth and grace continues to resonate among people who are tired of the shifting sands of post-modern relativism.

No doubt about it: count me among those who are optimistic about the future of the church in America.

Lee Strobel is author of the best-seller The Case for Christ, which releases as a motion picture on April 7.

Jamie Lynn Spears: ‘God put me in my place’ after daughter’s accident

NOW PLAYINGJamie Lynn Spears Says Tabloid Scrutiny Was ‘So Petty’

Jamie Lynn Spears says her daughter’s accident has inspired her to work harder on her music career.

The singer turned 26 on Tuesday and celebrated with a lengthy Instagram post that included a photo of a Psalm.

“I’m not one to preach, and I’m no priest, but God’s timing is no coincidence,” she wrote alongside the image. “I hate seeing, much less, reading someone’s long post, but here I go: Music, and my career [has] always been a big passion in my life, as well as to create a future that my family could be proud of. I have been working on my music for almost a decade now, and I have had many great successes as an artist/writer, but I was always wondering, how long I would have to WAIT for my big break? Wow, did God put me in my place…”

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Spears then went into detail about her emotions after her 8-year-old daughter was unconscious for several days in February following an accident when an all-terrain vehicle she was driving fell into a pond in Louisiana. Maddie Spears was submerged in the vehicle and trapped by her seatbelt until rescuers were able to free her.

“Time doesn’t matter, and seems to blur together when you’re waiting for your daughter to wake up, and a day could be a week, and you wouldn’t notice, because you’re fighting for what you love. For obvious reasons, I put everything with my work life on hold, till I knew my little girl was more [than OK].”

She said the scary incident opened her eyes.

“Now, more [than] ever, I realize how important it is to only put your time into things that matter, and I can’t wait to get back to my music. Now, that my baby girl is better- I can’t wait to make her proud. She is my everything. I want to thank you all for your patience, and prayers as we worked through this hard time.”

She concluded by telling her fans, “Music to come… 26 is gonna be a good year.”

I’m glad that lady forced a Bible on me

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The other day, I arrived at the bus stop where four Asian ladies were indiscriminately passing out New Testament Bibles. When one of the ladies offered me a Bible, I tried to decline. But she was insistent, so I tried to change the subject.

“What church are you with?” I asked.

She said she was with a non-denominational, evangelical church and again offered me a Bible.

“Thanks but I already have one,” I replied.

“That’s okay,” she said, “this one has footnotes. Take it. It’s free.”

I realized there was no sense in trying to tell her that my Bible also had footnotes. It was going to be easier to take her Bible than to repeatedly turn her down, so I took it and a tract that came with it.

When I got home, I put the Bible in our entryway where it sat for a month. Finally, my wife asked me to do something with it.

“You can’t just leave it sitting there,” she said.

I decided to take it with me to work. I figured that on my way, I could leave it in a public area where it might end up with someone who needed it. I walked to my bus stop, but because of a traffic jam, I jumped on a different bus than my regular one. After paying the fare, I sat my briefcase down and opened it to put the Bible inside.

A young mother with two little girls was sitting next to me, and she asked, “Is that a Bible?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Are you giving it away?”

“Yes, I am,” I said, surprised.

“Can I have it?”

“Sure you can,” I said, giving her the Bible. Then I flipped through the pages of the tract the Asian woman had given me, and it was a guide on how to read your Bible.

“You’ll probably need this too,” I said, handing it to her. Then I asked, “Just curious – are you a Christian?”

“Yeah,” she said, “but not a very good one,” which opened the door to a good conversation about how Jesus is the only one who can make us good.

A day later, I think back on this Bible exchange and marvel at the perfect timing required to get it into this young mother’s hands. And it all happened because a bold Asian lady was willing to shove a Bible into my hands a few weeks earlier. That lady had no idea what she was doing, but in His sovereign plan, God did.

We have this idea that doing something significant for God requires huge planning, red letters in the sky, a parting of the sea, signs and wonders. But the truth is, He’s working through us in ways we could never arrange on our own.

Maybe it’s something that looks fanatical, like aggressively giving out Bibles, or maybe it’s something mundane, like being friendly to another person on a bus.

Regardless, life is full of holy mystery when we walk in faith, recognizing that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Joshua Rogers is an attorney and writer who lives in Washington, D.C. You can follow Joshua on Twitter @MrJoshuaRogers and Facebook, and read more of his writing at JoshuaRogers.com.

Scientists issue dire warning about tomb of Jesus

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Few places are more holy to Christians than what’s thought to be Christ’s tomb in Jerusalem, but scientists are now warning that there’s a “very real risk” of collapse at the site.

Researchers from the National Technical University of Athens say the Edicule, a shrine that encloses the cave where the faithful believe Jesus was buried and resurrected, faces “catastrophic” collapse if issues aren’t remedied soon, National Geographic reports.

The Edicule itself is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Scientists discovered the decaying foundation—which they say is further destabilized by the fact that it’s built on rubble and atop a network of tunnels and channels—during a months-long, $4 million restoration project that was unveiled earlier this week.

“This is a complete transformation of the monument,” Bonnie Burnham, an ex-chief for the World Monuments Fund, said Monday at the unveiling, per the AP.

During the renovation, however, extensive structural problems were uncovered by camera bots and ground-penetrating radar. The general instability of the site has been known for almost a hundred years, but varying Christian sects have been fighting over who has custody of the site and didn’t come to a restoration agreement until March 2016.

What the NTUA says is needed now: a new $6.5 million project that could take close to another year as workers grout rotting mortar and install sewage and rainwater drainage systems around the shrine.

(In Scotland, archaeologists are trying to find the long-lost tomb of a king.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Scientists Issue Dire Warning on Christ’s Tomb

8-year-old boy says ‘angels’ helped him save his father’s life

NOW PLAYINGLittle boy says angels helped him save his dad

An 8-year-old boy in Idaho says angels helped him lift a car off his father’s body to save his life.

J.T. Parker was working on a Toyota Prius with his 17-year-old brother Mason and their father Stephen at their Sugar City home last summer.

“We were pulling the engine out of the car, and after we got it jacked up, I climbed under there to take the axels off,” Stephen recalled to EastIdahoNews.com. “The one axle came off pretty easily, but the other side wasn’t coming off.”

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When he went to adjust the second axle and move the jack, the car fell on him. J.T. was the only one around as Mason had gone inside the house minutes earlier with a cut hand.

“I yelled to J.T. on the other side of the car, ‘Jack it up quick! Jack it up quick!’” Stephen said. “I couldn’t move at all. I was totally trapped, and then I passed out. It was all in his hands, and I thought, ‘This is it. There’s no way he can jack up this car because it took my 17-year-old son and I both to jack it up the first time.”

Mustering all the courage and strength he could, J.T. adjusted the jack and started jumping up and down on the handle. He weighs about 50 pounds, the website reported.

“It was scary, and I didn’t think that I could jack the car up, but I just kept on trying,” J.T. told EastIdahoNews.com.

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After 15 minutes of jumping up and down, the car slowly started raising off his father. Once it was completely off, J.T. ran to get his brother and call 911.

“All I remember is I felt peace,” Stephen said. “I remember seeing white, like a nice happy day. The clouds were going by, and everything was happy and peaceful.”

His wife Jodi arrived while the three Parker men waited for emergency responders.

“When I got there, I saw my husband underneath a car,” Jodi told the website. “My heart just sank, and I didn’t know what to expect.”

Stephen was taken to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center via helicopter in critical condition.

He had 13 broken ribs and no internal damage.

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“It was just a miracle,” said Stephen, who was home two days after the July 30 accident.

After settling back at home, .J.T asked their son to jack up the car again – he couldn’t do it.

“Angels,” J.T. said when asked how he got his strength that day.

“We believe my grandpa, who passed on, and my sister who died were helping him,” Stephen added.

Last week, the American Red Cross of Greater Idaho presented J.T. with one of its 11 “East Idaho Real Heroes” award for 2017.

“This whole thing is a miracle. There’s no other way to describe it,” his mother said. “There’s no way that little boy could have done that. I just felt that it was a responsibility we now have to tell people that miracles still exist.”

A painful apology to a kid at church

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I did not enjoy going to church last Sunday.

I took my three kids to the service by myself because my wife wasn’t feeling well. The journey started out well enough — we were in the car and only running 12 minutes behind when we pulled out of the driveway. But it was all downhill from there.

Our church meets in a highly trafficked area of D.C. and parking can be difficult. Last Sunday it was impossible.

I drove around in circles for 15 minutes, getting more and more frustrated as the clock kept ticking with no parking space in sight. So much for 12 minutes late — now we were looking at 30 minutes.

“I don’t even know why I’m doing this,” I kept saying. “I shouldn’t have even tried to come.”

But I was already there and my commitment had escalated past the point of no return. So with my blood pressure rising, I finally gave up and parked in a garage, which meant that I had to haul my two girls, a baby, and a big diaper bag about a quarter of a mile through a shopping center and down what felt like an endless sidewalk.

Ugly, Angry Dad

My attitude was totally shot by the time we arrived at the service. When we reached the sign-in table for the kids, I felt like throwing the diaper bag past the young lady at the table and yelling, “Just take them!” Instead, when she said hello, I looked at her and said, with mild exasperation, “We’re half an hour late. Why am I even here?

As I signed in the kids, I could hear that our pastor was already well into his sermon, which made everything more irritating, but there was an opportunity for redemption.

A second-time guest was signing in at the table and her daughter was clinging to her because the girl was scared to go into Sunday school. Since my youngest daughter is friendly to a fault, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to jump in and help. My daughter, however, did not.

Forced Friendliness 

“Say hello to her,” I whispered.

“I don’t want to,” she said, looking down.

My daughter just needs a little encouragement, I thought. I was not, however, in the right state of mind to offer encouragement to anyone.

“The little girl is scared of going to Sunday school — I want you to help her. Just say hello and ask what her name is. Do it.

“I don’t want to, Daddy,” she said, slinking away, looking just as terrified as the other girl.

“You are going to say hello to that little girl, or you. will. come. and sit in the service with me.”

I instantly regretted saying it — I didn’t want to take Sunday school away from her. But I was determined to win the battle, so I kept ordering her to do it until she finally complied with tears in her eyes.

“Oh, look,” said the woman to her daughter, “this little girl is scared to go into Sunday school too.”‘

She was scared all right.

Through Her Eyes

I went into the service, slumped down in my seat, and shortly thereafter realized the baby needed his bottle and I hadn’t told his nursery worker. Annoyed, I got up, walked past the greeter, and again said, “Why am I here?” before heading back to the nursery.

As I walked past my daughter’s classroom, I looked in the doorway and noticed her sitting in a little chair watching a Bible story video. I could only see her profile and nothing about her looked out of the ordinary.

As I watched her though, I began seeing the morning through her five-year-old eyes. How humiliating it must have been to have her dad fire off angry words at her through whispers, provoke her to tears, and then send her off to class with a stranger to suck it up and have a good time.

I felt so ashamed of myself and knew I had to do something about it right then — not just for her, but for me too.

Back to Sunday School

I walked through the door quietly, got down on my knee, and whispered in her ear: “How did it make you feel when I forced you to talk to that little girl?”

“Sad,” she said, and then her lip started quivering.

I picked her up and carried her out into the hallway, where she pulled close and put her head on my shoulder.

“Did you feel embarrassed when I did that?”

She nodded and then started crying.

Tears welled up in my eyes as well.

“I’m really sorry,” I said. “Will you forgive me?”

She pulled back from my shoulder, looked into my teary eyes, and nodded.

“I’m going to pray and ask God to forgive me too,” I said.

As I prayed, I said, “Father, please forgive me for being a bad father this morning.”

“You’re not a bad father,” my daughter said in my ear.

“I appreciate you saying that,” I said, wiping tears away. And after I apologized again, I gave her a tight hug and sent her back to Sunday school. She was smiling.

It was a hard moment — not so much the apology though. I’ve been doing that with my kids ever since they were old enough to understand what I was saying. That’s something I saw modeled really well by my friends Renee and Steve Blair when they were doing an imperfect job raising their own kids. Unfortunately though, I think parents like Renee and Steve are rare.

Refusing to Apologize — Really Apologize

So many of my friends have parents who never apologized to them for anything. And even if their parents did apologize, they often equivocated, offering one of those belated, “I’m sorry if ever did anything to hurt you” apologies. That’s not even an apology — it’s a thin recognition of imperfection, but a refusal to take responsibility for specific offenses that inflicted specific wounds.

As an adult, however, I’ve had the privilege of watching a grown man sincerely apologize to his 32-year-old son, bringing about a great deal of healing. The man who offered that apology was my dad, and the one to whom he apologized was me.

For years, I stewed over his callousness to the ways his failures crippled me as a young man. But the night he laid down his pride, unequivocally apologized, and offered no defense for his behavior, it took the pleasure out of my feelings of resentment. I had no reason to fight him anymore — he had surrendered. He even invited me to let him know if I remembered any other offenses and told me he would be happy to talk through that as well.

After that, he was no longer just my father. He became my friend. I could trust him.

A Gift for Two

Sincere apologies are hard for all of us, regardless of the person to whom they’re being offered, but it’s especially hard if our children need it. No failure provokes guilt and shame like realizing we might have damaged our kids in ways we never imagined when we held them as newborns.

It’s a doorway to healing though, and the younger they are, the more quickly it can work its way through their systems. Children’s defenses are down, they’re still unconditionally receptive to our love, they don’t feel ashamed of how much they need our approval. But even if they’re older, it’s never too late — even if they don’t accept the apology. We don’t confess sin to get a certain result. We confess sin because that’s what God has called us to do.

As the Word says, “People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy” (Proverbs 38:12). And while the confessor may never receive mercy from the person they hurt, at least they will be in a better position to recognize their need for mercy from God, who sacrificed His Child and wiped away all of our failures.

Joshua Rogers is an attorney and writer who lives in Washington, D.C. You can follow Joshua on Twitter @MrJoshuaRogers and Facebook, and read more of his writing at JoshuaRogers.com.

Five reasons not to observe Lent

 (AP)

Editor’s note: The following column originally appeared on Crosswalk.com.

Some years ago my fiancee (now wife) and I found ourselves in a church full of people who observed Lent. With a wedding and honeymoon just a few months away, we had better plans.

We spent our extra money on a Caribbean cruise, while the spiritual pilgrims around us were freely giving their non-extra money to support persecuted Christians in Nigeria. I was, admittedly, on the “Look Good Naked” diet, renouncing sweets for the sake of vanity. They were on the Good Friday diet, fasting from food to dwell more closely with Jesus Christ. I was feeding my cravings. They were confessing their sins. I was more obligated, but they were more free.

After the luster of the cruise wore off, we decided to give Lent a try the following year. But I was still motivated by self-improvement and a fear of missing out. Several years later, it has taken some trial-and-error for me to learn the heart of Lent.  Along the way, here are five reasons I’ve learned not to observe the season:

1. To slim your waistline.

Lent is not a season for weight loss. Yes, Lent involves a taming of the physical appetites. But the goal is to cultivate a spiritual hunger for God, not a slimmer physique.

If you turn Lent into a season of self-improvement, you’ll miss the greater vision of drawing close to Jesus Christ and becoming like him. Besides, lenten fasts and fish Fridays are ineffective methods of losing weight — if that’s your goal, it’s better to try the Whole 30 diet and exercise three times a week.

2. To make God happy.

Sometimes I like to think I can control God, making him happy (or just less angry) simply by taking up the classic Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and generosity towards others.

At its heart, this is a “hunger strike” approach to God — going without food to get the attention of the prison warden.

I’ve found out the hard way that God does not play along with that silly game. This will just leave us either proud or depressed: “Why have we fasted, and you see it not?” (Isaiah 58:3). 

3. To cure an addiction.

While Lent is a great time to address the bodily cravings that have enslaved us, the spiritual journey will not cure addictions.

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.

The spiritual benefits of observing Lent with the people of God will be a support and encouragement as you walk the road of recovery.

4. To showcase your spirituality or virtue.

Let’s be honest: Most of us want to be admired for our virtue and recognized for our hard work. I know I do. But Lent is a time for us to seek a greater reward: the blessing of God the Father which is ours through the free gift of his Son Jesus.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them,” Jesus warned, “for then you will have no reward from your Father who is Heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

Whether we’re fasting, praying more regularly or giving our money to the poor, Jesus warns us against showcasing it for “likes.” By all means seek support for the journey, just don’t broadcast it for the ego-boost.

5. Because it’s the cool trend.

In all honesty, I fell hard for this one. I started practicing Lent because everyone at my new church observed the season. Increasing numbers of people from all walks of life are jumping on the Lent bandwagon. Maybe they are feeling far from God and want a tangible way to reignite their spirituality.Or perhaps they’re feeling adrift in the modern world and want to reconnect with ancient practices.

In any case, don’t join the herd out of a fear of missing out. The mystique will wear off faster than the dirt on your forehead from Ash Wednesday.

In the last 14 years of practicing Lent, my motives have been all over the place.  But by God’s grace I’ve come to see that Lent is not a forced march of works-righteousness, but rather a joyful pilgrimage, even better than a cruise.

It’s been good medicine for my autonomy, self-indulgence, spiritual independence and the painful split between what I know about God and what I experience of him. At the end of the day, however, Lent is about Jesus — becoming closer to him and becoming like him.

Aaron Damiani is the pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood and the author of The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.