Do you ever find yourself doing something that you thought seemed totally coherent and well thought out and then milliseconds later it reveals itself to be completely stupid? Just me? Oh well; yesterday held one of those moments for me. For those of you who follow the Christian calendar, you know that yesterday was Ash Wednesday. And at Odessa First we hold a brief Ash Wednesday litany in the evening. That also means we need ashes prepared from last years palms. The last couple of years I have burned the palms in our backyard a few days prior. One year I even ruined one of our stock pots. So this year, I thought I could try something different and decided to burn the palms on some foil…on a cookie sheet…in the oven. Now everyone reading this, except for myself at 5:20 AM yesterday morning, knows what is about to take place. All of a sudden I am receiving texts from my wife in the back of the house in a panicked state because she thinks the house is on fire. I quickly realize how far south my experiment has turned and even this morning I find myself sitting in a house that has the vague aroma of burnt palm leaves…which, strangely enough, kind of smell like cheap cigars.
But this is kind of what the season of Lent is for; our stupidity. Lent is a season of repentance and preparation. It’s a season where we confess and reflect on the ways throughout the year we may not have fully lived up to all that God has called us to be. Sometimes the ways that we failed God are just dumb. Sometimes the ways we have failed our neighbor are more malicious and evil. But all the same, Lent is a time where we remember these things, we remember our mortality and dependence upon God and we recognize once again our need for Grace. Psalm 51 is a passage that is sometimes read near the beginning of Lent and one of my favorite verses reads like this, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” – Psalm 51:10-11 This passage was thought to have been written by King David after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan. Now many of us don’t find ourselves in that same boat as David. But when we fail God or hurt our neighbor, the sentiment should be the same.
I can’t help but smile a little bit this morning as a I listen to the drone of an air filter doing its best to clean the smoke laden air in our house. I’m not sure it’s up to the task. But when it comes to us, God has no trouble creating a clean heart within us. He doesn’t long to take His Spirit from us, but rather seeks to abide with us. Lent is a season that reminds us that through repentance and humility that we are able to make space for God to work within us and create something new in our lives. May you find yourself being renewed this Lenten season. May you recapture the joy of your salvation. And may you be reminded that even for the incredibly stupid things we sometimes find ourselves caught up in with life, that there is grace.
Yesterday was a special day in the Christian calendar. Ash Wednesday is marked as a day of repentance and the beginning of the season of Lent, a powerful tradition that crosses denominational lines and cultures. So for many of us in the pastorate it was a busy day. About mid-afternoon though, I was able to go home for about an hour or so and spend time with my family who have been sick for a bit now. Forgetting I had ashes on my forehead, I noticed my 9-yr-old staring at me and then he asked, “What’s on your head?” Well the conversation went on as I explained to Jonas the significance of what Ash Wednesday meant and how we commemorate this season and then I asked him, “Do you think you would get ashes?” His reply, “Yes.” “Well why would you want to?” “Because I love Jesus and I want other people to know it.”
That’s the kind of response that melts a father’s heart. And I had never really thought about the significance of Ash Wednesday as an outward expression of solidarity with other Christ followers until yesterday. But what a profound image. Here we are as Christians, for the most part blending in every day of the year and then all of a sudden we are walking around with smudged crosses on our forehead and saying to the world our allegiance lies elsewhere. It reminds me of the verse from 2 Corinthians 2:14, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.” We are meant to leave a mark, to spread an aroma, to have an impact on the world around us.
This morning my wife and I were having a different conversation about our son. We were wondering for a moment what his life would have been like had he not become a part of our family. You see, Jonas is an incredibly sensitive young man and our home is a safe place to express emotions and feelings. Then I began to think about what my life would be like if Jonas were not my son. Its crazy to think about how we left marks on each others lives because of a decision long ago. I look at this sweet caring soon-to-be teen and am so thankful for the mark he is leaving on the world around him. I am so thankful for the mark he is leaving on my life. And I think Jesus is thankful for the mark he is leaving as well. Can the same be said of us? Are we leaving a mark that points back to Christ on the world around us? Or are we just content to continue to blend in? May this Lenten season become a time for you to examine your life, your mark and see if you truly leave the mark, the aroma of Christ wherever you go.
Today was the day…and it has been awful. But in order to save myself embarrassment and to be able to continue to enjoy the existence that I am used to, it was a necessity. You see, I have begun to wear a hole in the right back pocket of my jeans where I usually wear my wallet. And these aren’t just any jeans…these are my jeans. The all American-made denim that I enjoy on an almost every day basis. The jeans that because of their raw-denim make-up have rarely seen the inside of a washing machine but have been worn into oblivion. And so, in order to go on with life as I know I switched my wallet pocket. And it is awful (first world problems, right). But seriously…it effects everything. It effects the way I walk, the way I sit, the way I drive…almost everything. I am having to re-orient little portions of my entire day. I may even have to visit a chiropractor after this.
But as my morning continued I began to think about the significance of today being the day for this: Ash Wednesday is the day I switched my wallet? Ash Wednesday; a day of repentance and reorganizing our life into the rhythm of God. A day when we begin to look at our life in terms of mortality, eternity and grace. A day when we reorganize our life by a calendar based not on human happenings but rather on the life of Christ. We begin to mark our days in preparation for the Resurrection of our Lord and the celebration of love conquering the powers of death and hell. And I think that maybe this is a great day to switch my wallet.
You see, the liturgical calendar was put into place to remind us that this is not our home. While we are busy living our our lives in meetings, appointments, dates, months, years, etc. all of a sudden the life of the church breaks in and reminds us that this stuff does not define us. It really is meant to be a physical and blatant reminder that we are called to reorient our very existence around Christ. Colossians 3:1-2 puts it this way, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Lent and the practices surrounding the liturgical calendar prod us into setting our minds on Christ and not on the cares of this world. And this focus allows us to move and live and have our being with the singular goal of establishing God’s kingdom here on earth.
Sometimes in this life we need reminders as to why we are here. Sometimes we need seasons like Lent and Advent to break in and remind us of whose we are. And although reorienting our life around these can be difficult at times, I assure you, it’s a lot better than switching your wallet pocket and it has far greater impact.