What is Ash Wednesday?

Ash-WednesdayToday is Ash Wednesday.  But what is Ash Wednesday all about?  Why do we do it?  Why is this something that we should focus on?  What is the point?

Ash Wednesday is the first day in the Forty Day season known as Lent.  These forty days (excluding Sunday – I’ll explain why in a bit) are a time for us to remember all that Jesus did for us.  It’s a time for us to remember the depth of all that Jesus went through for us.  His passion.  His suffering.  His death and upon the cross.

And to prepare ourselves for what is to come on Easter.

In the life of the early church, Lent was a season of preparation for those that would be joining the church on Easter.  It was a time of fasting and prayer as these new converts to the faith were making sure that they were truly ready to make their vows to publically become a Christian.  They were preparing to enter a world where being a Christian was something that could cost you your life.  The church wanted to make sure that these new believers knew just what that meant.

So they fasted and prayed for forty days, to prepare.  To make sure. To be ready.  Many churches (our’s at St. Matthew’s is one of them) continues that tradition of individuals joining after Easter, many of those within our Confirmation Class will join our church on the Sunday after Easter.

But why ashes?  Why Ash Wednesday?  Throughout the Bible, ashes are seen as a sign of repentance.  Individuals would put on “sackcloth and ashes” to show public signs of repentance.  You may remember Job sitting in the ashes, after all that happened to him.  To mark yourself in some way with ashes to remember the truth of our lives, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Ashes remind us our humanity and our frailty.

So as we start Lent, we begin with ashes.

I said earlier that Sundays are not included within Lent.  Why is that?  Every Sunday is a “little Easter.” Every Sunday we gather together to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.  So, how can we fast while we celebrate?  Sundays as always splashes of grace within our lives.

During Lent, as a sign of repentance, many of us will give up or fast from something.  It may be a meal, a type of food, an activity.  Something.  What I tell my children is just to make sure that it’s something you like, so you’ll miss it.  And when you miss it, you turn to pray.

That’s the point of fasting, in all of its forms, to drive us to pray and to help us better hear and understand God’s voice.  Fasting helps us listen better, it clears away the clutter. For me, it always helps me pray.

Some, instead of giving up something, will “pick up” something.  Just as Simon of Cyrene picked up the cross to help Jesus, they will pick up, or start something that will help them grow closer to Jesus.  Maybe it’s a spiritual discipline.  Maybe it’s an act of kindness.  It could be any thing that draws us closer to Jesus.

And that’s really the point of Ash Wednesday and of Lent.  It reminds us of our brokenness it reminds us of our frailty and reminds of our need for Jesus.  Luke 14: 9-14 explains this heart quite well:

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

When we humble ourselves, when we repent, when we realize our great need for Jesus, you know what?  We find life.

Today on Ash Wednesday and in this season of Lent, may we find life.  May we find His grace.

If you are in the Madison County area, we’d love to have you join us tonight at St. Matthew’s for our Ash Wednesday service tonight.  We’ll have a meal at 5 p.m. and service at 6 p.m.  If you are unable to make our service and would like to receive ashes, come by the church anytime today and they will be available.

If you’d like to receive these thoughts by email, be sure to click here and join my email devotional group!

Who We Are

title-who-we-areAs we walk together through this season of Lent, it’s very important for us to remember who we are, and whose we are.  We are the people of God.  That’s our identity, that’s our purpose, that’s our calling.

We have to remember that.  We belong to God.  We are His.

Seriously.  We are His.  And that means this.  We are not our own.  We don’t live our lives the way that we want to live (or at least we shouldn’t), we don’t chase after our purposes, our plans, our goals, our stuff.

We are called to chase after God’s.  That’s where life is found.  In Him, and through Him.

But, why are we God’s people?  Is it because of our perfection, our goodness, our righteousness, our stuff?  Is God lucky to have us on His team?  No, in fact, it’s quite the opposite.  Listen to what we are told today in Deuteronomy 7: 6-8:

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Today we are told yes – we belong to God.  But we aren’t God’s because of our worth or our might, but we are God’s so that He can show His power through us.  We are God’s because He wants to use us to show His strength.  In the Old Testament, He didn’t choose Israel because they were the greatest.  He chose them because they were the weakest.  And in their weakness, when they were faithful and did great things, that just shows the power of God.

It’s the same for us today.  You aren’t perfect.  You don’t have it all figured out.  You don’t have it all figured out.

And you know what?

That’s ok.

God still wants you.  He still desires you.  He still desires to be in relationship with you.

Not because of you. Because of Him.

Today, you belong to God.  Live for Him.  Live by His strength.  Live in His power.  Live for His purpose.

And if it goes wrong, remember this.  You aren’t His because you are perfect.  You are His because He is perfect.

Rest in that.

Don’t forget, you can click here to download Asbury’s mobile app and read these devotionals, as well as listen to my sermons on your smart phones, and you thought our app, you can now watch our worship services from Asbury too!

A Holy Lent

imagesToday is Ash Wednesday, the start of the Christian season of Lent. The season of Lent is a time of reflection. This season started this past Wednesday, at Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday starts this time where as a church and as individuals where we reflect our sin, our need for Jesus, and the power that He brings to our lives.

This season began thousands of years ago as new converts to the Christian faith were baptized and became fully part of the church. However, before they were baptized, they had a time of reflection, of prayer, of fasting, of preparation. They were getting themselves ready to make this decision, to take this plunge. But before they did, they made sure that they were ready.

We do the same thing today in this season of Lent. We know that God has called us to great things. And for preparation for that, we need to get ready for that, ready to be faithful. We prepare.

So, with that, a couple of things. First, I would encourage you to fast from something this Lenten season. Fast from a meal, from a food, from an activity, from something.

And second, when you fast, pray. Let this fasting draw your heart and your mind to God. Let it make you pray!

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what Jesus said in Matthew 6: 16-18, and I’m making it my key verse to focus on during Lent this year.  Listen to what Jesus said:

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

The thing that is sticking with me is this.  Jesus didn’t say “if you fast.”  He said, “when you fast.”  Jesus, tells us that as Christians, fasting is not options.  It’s like loving.  And serving.  And showing grace.  And forgiving.  It’s what we are supposed to do.

It’s what we are called to do.

Why?  Fasting helps us pray better.  It helps us focus on God.  It helps us to see the desires that control us.  It draws us closer to God.  It causes us to pray.  It gives us wisdom and dependence.  It strengthens us.  It makes us cling to God.

In short, it truly, truly, truly strengthens our faith.

This Lent, I encourage you to fast in some way from something. And see what God does in your life.

Starting today and leading to Easter, I pray you have a Holy Lent.

Don’t forget, you can click here to download Asbury’s mobile app and read these devotionals, as well as listen to my sermons on your smart phones, and you thought our app, you can now watch our worship services from Asbury too!

What is Maundy Thursday?

Today is a day that is called Maundy Thursday. This is a day set aside to remember the betrayal of Jesus and to remember the night when He gave us the gift of Holy Communion. It begins the darkness that is Good Friday.

Before the dawn and light of Easter Sunday, we must go through the darkness of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

And, if you happen to be in the Petal, MS area tonight, and you’ve never experienced a Maundy Thursday service, I hope you’ll be able to come out and be with us tonight at Asbury.

Before Jesus is betrayed, He left this disciples, and us, with some words to remember. Before He was handed over, He wanted them, and us, to know what was most important.  Listen to what He tells them, and us, in John today:

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

They will know you are my disciples not by your theology.  Or by your denomination.  Or by your beliefs.  Or by what you wear.  Or by what you listen to.  Or any of these things.

We try to make Christianity about so many different things that is not about.

Before Jesus was handed over, He told us what was most important.  He told us what mattered the most.  He told us what we must do to prove to the world that we are His disciples.

They will know you are my disciples by your love.

Today, do “they” – your friends, your family, your co workers, your neighbors, the people in your life – do they know you are His disciple?

Are you living a life of love in front of them?

Before He was handed over, he told us what is most important.  He told us what matters most.  Love.

They will know you are my disciples by your love. Today, may all the world know that we are His disciples.

Don’t forget, you can click here to download Asbury’s mobile app and read these devotionals, as well as listen to my sermons on your smart phones.