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.

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Day Twenty-two with Mark: Mark 6:6-13

Today in our daily journey together through Mark, we see Jesus sending out the twelve to do ministry, as found in Mark 6:6-13:

The Mission of the Twelve
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

When we look at this passage we see the twelve go out and do a similar ministry to that which Jesus had been doing. There is teaching.  There is authority.  There is traveling from village to village, sharing the news of the kingdom of God.  They travel to all villages, with this good news, bringing life, hope, freedom, wherever it is that they go.

11705277_1025230754176400_7895478622006202186_nBut there are a couple of things that stand out to me about this passage.  First, notice how Jesus sends them out.  Two by two.  No one is sent out alone.  As Christians, we are not meant to walk this path alone.  We are not meant to do ministry alone.  We are not meant to live out the good news of Jesus Christ by ourselves.

Faith is hard when you are in community with others.  It is nearly impossible by yourself.  There are going to be times when you want to give up.  When you are overwhelmed.  When you think that you can’t do it.  And you know what?  By yourself, you can’t.

That’s why Jesus sends them out two by two.  They needed each other for the ministry.  So do we.

Second, notice what message they proclaimed.  All should repent.  Not just some.  Not just “bad” people.  Not just “them.”  But all should repent.  Me.  You.  Everyone.  We should all turn away from our sins, and we should all turn to Jesus.  Repentance is not just something that those that don’t know Jesus do, it’s something that we all do.

We all, no matter where we are, need to turn away from things that are harmful, and we all, no matter where we are, need to turn to Jesus.

That’s repentance.  And that’s why all are called to it.

Because we all need it.

Tomorrow we’ll look at Mark 6:14-29.

What questions do you have?  How does this strike you?  Shoot me an email, comment below, or connect with me through social media.

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Worthy Fruit

This morning as I was reading today’s readings, the words of John the Baptist, in Matthew’s readings stood out.  He is confronting the Pharisees and Sadducees as they come to him.  He says:

8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

This got me to thinking about fruit worthy of repentance. What is that?  What does that mean?  

I imagine the fruit being talked about here is the Fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, etc. But, that was not what really got me to thinking this morning.

How do you bare that fruit?  How is the fruit produced?

To get more personal, how will I make sure that I bare that fruit?  What must I do today, and each day, to make sure that I am barely fruit worth of repentance?

So, I thought, how do produce fruit?  I’ve found that for me, the way my life is fruitful for God is when I am walking closely with God. When I am praying, reading, listening, seeking God, I find that I produce the fruit of joy and peace and love and mercy.

But, when I am not. When I’m too busy. When I don’t seek. When I get bogged down in my schedule. When I turn my attention to what I have to do; what is next, it is in those times I am not patient and kind and loving.

The fruit in my life is worthy when I am walking with the Lord as I ought. When I turn away, towards myself and my stuff, my fruit is not as it ought to be.

So, for me, I have to make myself slow down.  Pray.  Breathe.  Listen.

Today, no matter how busy you are.  No matter what your schedule is, you can take a few moments every so often to stop.  Breathe.  Pray.  Listen.  You don’t have to pray for 30 minutes.  But, you can stop.

And, if for nothing else, become aware to the reality that God is there with you, even then.

In short, I think the key to producing worthy fruit is to live with that awareness that God is there with us. Every moment.

Even now.

Why am I so Stupid?

Today I was praying and thinking about the inability to stop doing stupid things.  You know how it is, you know what I mean. We, as humans, don’t learn our lessons well sometimes. We keep making the same mistakes over and over and over again. We keep falling in the same holes, we keep getting tripped up by the same things.

As I asked God this morning when I was praying, “God why am I so stupid?”  That’s how I feel sometimes.  I think we each feel that way sometimes too.

Then, I was reading the assigned Psalm for today’s morning office, Psalm 103.  Here’s the part that most spoke to me:

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul, *
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, *
and forget not all his benefits.
3 He forgives all your sins *
and heals all your infirmities;
4 He redeems your life from the grave *
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;
5 He satisfies you with good things, *
and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.
6 The LORD executes righteousness *
and judgment for all who are oppressed.
7 He made his ways known to Moses *
and his works to the children of Israel.
8 The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.
9 He will not always accuse us, *
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, *
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, *
so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.
12 As far as the east is from the west, *
so far has he removed our sins from us.
13 As a father cares for his children, *
so does the LORD care for those who fear him.
14 For he himself knows whereof we are made; *
he remembers that we are but dust.
15 Our days are like the grass; *
we flourish like a flower of the field;
16 When the wind goes over it, it is gone, *
and its place shall know it no more.
17 But the merciful goodness of the LORD endures for ever on those who fear him, *and his righteousness on children’s children;

There seems to be two refrains. We are weak and frail.  Our lives are but a whisper. We are the grass of the field. We are temporary. We will not be here for long. We are weak.  We are clumsy.  We fall down.

God is eternal.  God is love. God longs to show mercy to His children.  Why we are here for just a moment, God was here before we got here and will be here after we leave.  He is before and after us.  He is God.

And, He knows we are frail and weak.  He knows we are clumsy.  He knows we fall.  He knows we get tripped up.  He knows we are from the dust.

And He loves us anyway.  He loves us in spite of our weakness.  He loves us.

His love is greater than our mistakes. His strength is stronger than our weakness.  His mercy is deeper than our sins.  No matter what we’ve done.  He loves us.  He loves you today, no matter if you’ve done the same dumb thing yesterday that you’ve done for years.

He might not like what you’ve done.  He might not delight in your sin.

But He loves you.  He delights in you.  You are loved, no matter what.

I don’t know about you, but I needed to hear this Psalm today. It’s a good thing to know that I’m loved, no matter what.  So are you today.  You are love, in spite of it all.

Live in that knowledge.

The God of Repentance

Today as I was praying through today’s Morning Office, one of the prayers really hit a cord with me.  It’s a passage from the Apocryphal Book the Prayer of Manasseh.  It says this:

And now, O Lord, I bend the knee of my heart, *
and make my appeal, sure of your gracious goodness.

I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, *
and I know my wickedness only too well.

Therefore I make this prayer to you: *
Forgive me, Lord, forgive me.

Do not let me perish in my sin, *
nor condemn me to the depths of the earth.

For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent, *
and in me you will show forth your goodness.

This is Holy Week, the week we focus on the passion of our Lord as He was in Jerusalem, the week when we hone in on the cross and the price that the Lord paid for our freedom and forgiveness.

This can produce two emotions within us. First, a sense of great guilt and conviction.  Iunderstand this feeling. It was for me that Jesus came. It was for my sins He was given.  I was because of what I’ve done that He gave His life.  That is true for each of us.  He gave Himself for each of us.

That’s one reason, in my opinion, as Christians we must be forgiving, Jesus died for the sins of the world. But, also for my sins.  I don’t need to worry about what you are doing.  I need to worry about what I am doing. How am I living?  How am I being faithful.  How am I being who God has called me to be?  If we each live with that sense of awareness of our own sin, I imagine we’ll be more forgiving of each other’s sin.

The other emotion it produces is thankfulness. For, God is a God of repentance.  He is a God of those that turn to Him, that ask forgiveness.  That ask for new life. That turn away from the old.  That understand what they have done.

Today, God is a God that longs to forgive you. And me. He is a God that longs to offer each of us a fresh start. Today.  He longs to forgive us.

Repentance is a gift.  It allows us to make a new, fresh, and clean start.  Today.

And, repentance is not just for those that are not Christian.  It’s for each of us. For we all have sin and we all need to repent and turn away from it.  We all need to turn from our sin and turn to God.

Today, will you repent?  Will you turn away from your sin and turn to God?  Will you make a fresh start?  Will you have a new day?  God is the God of Repentance.  May we find His grace for that, even today.