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Lent is a 40 day period of penitence, self-reflection, and preparation for the Passion of Jesus that the Christian church observes. Lent culminates with Easter Sunday as we celebrate the risen Lord. We invite you to join us for midweek worship services on the Wednesday evenings of Lent. Our theme this year is “Washed in the Water”, a journey through scripture reflecting on God’s cleansing the sin of his people. A community meal will be served before the service at 6:30pm. All are invited.
Today, Christians around the world engage in the ancient ritual known as “the imposition of ashes.” This tradition marks the first day of Lent, known as Ash Wednesday, and serves as the beginning of the forty-day period, not counting Sundays, between Ash Wednesday and Easter. The practice of using ashes as a sign of penitence goes back to the Hebrew people (Jon 3:6; Job 42:6). Christian use of ashes goes back to the 2nd century (as recorded in the writings of Tertullian), and it was widely practiced by the 5th century.
A typical Ash Wednesday service today includes the invitation for each person to come forward to have the sign of the cross marked on his or her forehead. We are then reminded that we, like the burned palm fronds, will someday turn to dust. As your forehead is marked with ashes, you will hear these words from Genesis 3:19—”Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.”
Some might look at this practice and say that it is a dark or even morbid aspect of the Christian faith. As Lent’s finale, after all, we look to Jesus on the cross where he experienced one of the most painful forms of punishment ever devised. In spite of this, I don’t think Ash Wednesday or Lent are particularly dark, at least not inappropriately so.
Instead, I would suggest that Ash Wednesday and Lent are a chance to step back from the distractions and the niceties of our lives to see clearly the potent and ever-present pain and suffering in the world around us. It is also a reminder that even if we feel like we have control over our lives right now, there will come a day when we won’t.
On Ash Wednesday we kneel together, as a community and congregation, acknowledge that the world and our lives are broken. But the reason this isn’t just a dark, despondent day or season of the year is because underneath the ashes there is hope.
After Jesus’ death, his followers took his body and laid it in a tomb. They rolled a stone in front to seal the living from the dead, fully expecting the body of their Lord to go the way of every one before. Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.
Of course we know, as the disciples were soon to find out, that Jesus did not go the way of every other. He fought the all-consuming power of death – and won. He conquered ashes and the grave, being made new and wholly transformed, and his victory was turned into ours.
Lent is not just a season of sadness or suffering, but a season to again be transformed. As we reflect on the realities of our world – brokenness, suffering, loss and death – we can experience the grace of our God all-the-more. His victory shines all the brighter when seen from the darkness of our world. Jesus stepped into the grave so that we could step out, so that we could be freed from the cycle of life, death and decay, and turn instead to resurrection.
As your heads are marked by ashes tonight, you can be reminded from where you have come. But later tonight at the sink, or in the shower, as your forehead is washed clean, let that be a reminder as to where, through Christ, you are going.
~by Pastor Mike Middaugh
We are quickly approaching the season of Lent (Ash Wednesday is February 18) which means we are entering a more contemplative and introspective season of the church year. Over the several weeks I have outlined several classic spiritual disciplines that are largely overlooked today.
I say that jokingly as I am not sure many of us would get excited about the idea of confessing our sins. However, rather than seeing any of these spiritual disciplines as practices that weigh us down, I hope that we will see they are truly mean to free us.
We actually have a rather odd relationship with confession. On the one hand we have an aversion to it – not wanting to dwell on our faults, errors, sins or shortcomings. But, on the other hand, we seem to be deeply attracted to it – demanding accountability from our public leaders accused of a breach of ethics or moral failing. So why do we have this paradoxical relationship with confession?
We are averse to it because the moment we begin to admit our own shortcomings and failings we must also admit we are not able to live up to God’s standards, or own own, not to mention the standards we place upon other people. This means we are not truly free. That we cannot really be the “good” person we would like to convince ourselves that we are. Sure, we could argue that we might be able to see more good in ourselves, than some others, but this brings up another logic problem – how “good” do we have to be to gain God’s favor and salvation?
But in a strange way we are also drawn to confession, as if we are made for it, and deep down we understand it’s power.
Let’s think about it like this. What if every time some public figure fell short (Brian Williams being the most recent example), they knew that the moment they confessed they would be embraced by the the public with welcoming arms ready to forgive and reinstate them? Wouldn’t confession then become easier? Wouldn’t we be quicker to run towards it rather than away?
In saying that I do not mean to discount the need for consequences in this civil realm. Certainly consequences or punishment are sometimes necessary. But I do want us to consider what confession to GOD really means. At its core, confession simply means “agreement.” It is acknowledging and agreeing before God with the way things really are. In confession we do not tell God something he doesn’t already know. But rather, God knew our sins all along and when we confess, we are simply agreeing with him that they were really there.
The good news is that when we do confess and acknowledge our sin, God is the perfect audience always ready with forgiveness. The reason this is possible is because our sin has already been placed on Jesus. He took it with him to the cross, allowed it to crush him, and in turn became victorious over it. God no longer judges us for our sin because the price has already been paid.
So in confession we receive forgiveness. The weight of what was really there all along is removed from our lives. We are free and open and exposed before God and that is a very good place to be. We begin to understand his grace and his goodness even more.
This changes our hearts and changes our attitudes. It helps us to see again the need for his grace, while being thankful that his grace is truly there. Regular confession of our own sin also prevents us from becoming judgmental towards others. We realize they may be bad, but we are too.
So when should we confess?
We make corporate confession together on Sunday mornings. It comes at the beginning of our service when we speak together the words of acknowledgment asking God to forgive us. We then audibly hear his forgiveness spoken over us as we kneel.
Confession does not need to be limited to one time and one place however. It has long been a practice experienced by God’s people as part of prayer. In the Lord’s prayer Jesus teaches us to say “forgive us our trespasses (sins), as we forgive others,” and when we do, even privately, we can know that it is so.
For centuries in the Christian Church confession has also been a private practice that takes place between a pastor and an individual. We may think of this sort of private confession as being a Catholic thing, but it actually has roots very early in the Christian church and continues to this day in Christian churches across the denominational spectrum. For some situations it may be especially helpful to hear someone else speak words of forgiveness into your life, reminding you of the power and truth of the gospel. It should be said that it is not only pastors who are able to speak words of forgiveness to another believer, but that all Christians are able to share with one another the reality of God’s forgiveness. Some Christians even choose to enter into an “accountability” relationship with another, making a point to regularly meet and confess to each other the temptations or struggles they deal with.
Ultimately confession is a great gift for Christians. We are not left wondering whether we are forgiven, or whether our sins might be too great to receive God’s grace. Jesus has made possible the way of forgiveness and the way of grace. His death is powerful enough to conquer even the worst of sin. And in his perfect life he has accomplished what we could not.
Click Here for Part 1 of this series.
Click Here for Part 2 of this series.
Many of us are familiar with some stories of the Bible: Noah and the Flood; Abraham and Isaac; Moses parting the Red Sea; King David leading Israel; and Jesus being born in a manger. But do we know how all of these smaller stories fit into the one big story that is the story of God’s salvation?
Starting on February 22nd, as we begin the season of Lent, we will be taking a look at some of the most well known stories of scripture to see how they all ultimately point to a much bigger story. The story of Jesus who came as the savior of the world.
~by Pastor Mike Middaugh
We are quickly approaching the season of Lent (Ash Wednesday is February 18) which means we are entering a more contemplative and introspective season of the church year. As we approach Lent I thought I would take the next few weeks to outline several classic spiritual disciplines that are largely overlooked today.
There are certain things that many of us have NEVER had to go without. Food may be one of them.
If you are like me, food has just always been around. When I was young, there were other stresses my family dealt with, but not whether there would be food on the table for each of our meals. It was always just assumed. Especially here, in our culture today, you can’t even go for a drive without passing multiple quick and easy food options, just waiting to curb your hunger. Compared to most people in most places today and throughout history, we don’t even know what real hunger is.
So what is fasting? Fasting is choosing to go without food for a certain period of times. A “fast” could be the absence of all food for a day, or several. Or, it could be limiting oneself to just one meal per day for a number of days.
While the specifics of fasting may vary, its consistency within the Biblical account does not. By my count, fasting appears over 77 times in scripture. And not just in the Old Testament when the people were waiting for the savior, but in the early Christian Church of the New Testament as well.
When Jesus began his public ministry, he went into the wilderness to fast for 40 days – an event so important that it is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus discusses fasting directly after his instruction on the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps indicating that fasting should be as familiar as prayer. In this teaching, Jesus said that fasting should not be done in order to gain attention or public praise, as some seemed to be doing in that day, but rather it should be done in order to draw close to God, not for the sake of impressing others. In the book of Acts the Christians of the early church seemed to fast regularly, often as a corporate act when important decisions were being made, or upon beginning a new ministry or initiative.
So what purpose might fasting have for Christians today, and why don’t we do it more often?
It should be noted that fasting has not disappeared. It simply seems to be more common in some Christian circles than others. A quick Google search brought up an article about the Nazarene Church of South Africa that initiated a day of prayer and fasting last October. They did so to intercede for those suffering because of the Ebola outbreak in several West African countries. The Roman Catholic Church in America and around the world continues to encourage fasting on certain holy days, especially during the season of Lent. And certainly there are many other examples.
So, for many of us, fasting may seem like an odd or ancient practice simply because we have not been around it that often. For some, it may simply seem “too Catholic.” Whatever the reason though, I believe fasting is a worthwhile spiritual discipline that we would do well to not overlook.
Fasting may have several benefits for our own faithfulness in the call to follow Jesus:
1. Fasting is a break from the routine.
If nothing else, fasting will make us think. We are so used to having our stomachs full, and to immediately responding to this most basic of human needs, that when we don’t, we will notice. This is one of the gifts of the fast. The call of hunger becomes an ever present invitation to turn not to food, but to God. It is a reminder that we need to be filled – physically, by bread, but also spiritually by the Creator of our souls. In this life we have deep needs, needs we often trick ourselves into believing we are able to fill. But in a fast, we are reminded that truly all we have is a gift from God above, and that our need for him is even more vital than our need for earthly food.
2. Fasting is a tool for seeking spiritual wisdom and discernment.
In the Bible fasting occurs for two main reasons. Either, God’s people are entering into a time of great repentance, giving up their old ways of sin and turning to God for his new life-giving aid, or, it is a practice of seeking God’s will for direction in life’s biggest decisions. As Paul began his missionary journeys he entered into a period of fasting with the other apostles, seeking God’s will and blessing for his trip. When used for this purpose fasting can be personal and private, a solitary practice to draw close to God and seek his will. It can also be done as a corporate act. I have known the leadership of churches to enter into a fast together in order to pray through a big ministry decision or challenge.
3. Fasting can be a reminder of God’s overwhelming Grace.
For several years I have made a habit of fasting on Good Friday. That is the traditional day of the church year when we turn our focus to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. When we fast, we feel, in an overwhelmingly minuscule way, a portion of the suffering that Jesus endured on the cross to pay for our sin. Fasting helps us understand in a physical way something of what he took upon himself as he gave up ALL he had for our behalf. I can tell you as well that when we experience Good Friday in a spiritual and meaningful way, Easter Sunday also takes on a new reality within our lives. The fast on Good Friday is rewarded with a feast on Sunday morning. When Jesus’ Kingdom is never so present and real as it is when we are beckoned to his table to eat from his own great life-giving provision.
Click Here for Part 1 of this series.
Click Here for Part 3 of this series.
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