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.
Last night I was able to sub in for one of our regular teachers here at the church and I got to lead our adult Bible study. In the midst of our conversation we were looking at a text that alluded to believers in Jesus being tested/tried. And then the verse was brought up that is often brought up in this discussion from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13. And I am not faulting anyone for bringing up this verse. This is one of those verses that often gives us great comfort in the midst of trials, but I can’t help but wonder if the meaning at face value really applies to the temptations/trials that we as humans often want to apply it to.
For those of you who are not readily aware of it, we in the Christian tradition have just entered into the season of Lent (no this is not a reminder to clean out your dryer vent). But rather this is the season that begins on Ash Wednesday and marks the 40 days plus Sundays leading up to Easter. Lent is traditionally characterized by some sort of fast on the part of the believer and is ushered in by the marking of the believer with ashes on Ash Wednesday with the scriptural reminder from Genesis 3, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The beginning and overarching tone therefore of Lent is a remembrance of our mortality. In fact, the reason that Lent is celebrated for 40 days is a call back to Jesus’ mortal temptation in the wilderness.
Can I be real honest here for a minute? I don’t think any of us would have survived what Jesus did in terms of His temptation in the wilderness. Be you Bear Grylls or Survivor Man, I really don’t think it matters. The Bible tells us that Jesus fasted for forty days and after that He was tempted. You put me for four days, let alone forty, in the West Texas wilderness and then tempt me with anything and I would probably cave. Why? Because I am weak. I am human. And often times when I come under stress, trials, temptations, etc. it is so easy for me to buckle. But here is the beauty and the simplicity of my reflection on the verse from 1 Corinthians above, “they are weak but He is strong”. In my humanness I may consider often that the trials and temptations that I undergo are too much for me, but they are never too much for Him. And that really is what Lent is ultimately about. It’s a reminder that were we to be left to our own devices all that would await us is defeat, brokenness and death. But thanks be to God that the end of Lent is the ushering in of Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
So may you take to heart these 40 days. May it be a reflection upon your weakness and mortality, but also a remembrance of His power that is at work within you…Yes, Jesus loves me!
I want to be a person of prayer. But not the typical definition of what you may be thinking of. Often times I think about a person of prayer as someone you want to bring your requests to. Someone who will get ahold of heaven until heaven answers back. But I am not sure this is the person of prayer I want to be.
I want to be a person of prayer. But not a person who prays selfish things or for the world to get easier or for life to get better. I want to be a person who prays for God’s Kingdom come in earnest. I think that if I pray for this then it changes the words I say and the way I look at the world. If my prayer for God’s Kingdom becomes my heart’s desire then I start to see it in action all around me.
I want to be a person of prayer. I want to learn to pray like Jesus did. He got away and prayed in solitude and I’m not sure what he prayed for but I imagine it was for people to understand that living life to the fullest is not the easiest life. Jesus came to give us life to the fullest but his life ended in death…and not just a death where you pass peacefully into the next life but a violent horrific death because his life lived to the fullest was misunderstood. And yet Jesus was a person of prayer.
I want to be a person of prayer. And I believe this requires action. But I also think it means inaction. Being a person of prayer may require me just to be quiet and think and listen because prayer is about hearing from God as much as talking to Him. I don’t think this will be easy, but I think it’s necessary.
I want to be a person of prayer. I want my life to be characterized by prayer and for it to be evident in how I live. I want prayer to be a defining characteristic of how I see the world and how I help others to see the world.
And as I become a person of prayer I want to pray like Jesus taught us to pray…
“ ‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. ’ – Matthew 6:9-13
I was recently granted the opportunity of writing some curriculum for preteen students. I mention this only because my subject material was quite a challenge. I was commissioned to write about what it takes to trust God in difficult situations. The topics ranged from suffering and persecution to loneliness and doubts. Not exactly the easiest stuff to try to communicate to preadolescence students with burgeoning faith. The topic of loneliness is particularly difficult because more than anything it speaks to our human condition. Anyone reading this post has at one time or another experienced the feeling of being alone and it is particularly poignant during this season of the Christian calendar. This time of year we find ourselves embroiled in the Lenten fast and all that comes with it. Lent is a time to reflect on repentance, mortality, and ultimately our human experience. Lent is intended to bring us closer to the human experience of Christ as we practice life ‘without’ in order to understand what it fully means to experience life with Christ. It is no wonder that the culmination of the Lenten fast is the experience of Good Friday and the anguish Jesus must have experienced as the Triune God took death into itself in order to redeem our condition. Christ became the discarded on our behalf. He was rejected by the empire, by his own, by his followers and left to die…
I know this in no way compares, but without fail I always seem to get sick during Lent.* It is almost as if my body decides to remind me of my mortality in its’ own way. But being sick also leads to feelings of separateness and loneliness. Not to completely reflect selfishly, but sickness always makes one turn inwardly and be consumed with one’s own self. One of the most difficult things to do while being sick is to be a parent. In all honesty I wish I was wealthy enough to just hire my kids out to a nanny until I am back to my normal health. And that’s what amazes me about Christ. In the midst of the most miserable state one could possibly be in (beaten to the point of death, stripped naked, abandoned, and crucified as a common state terrorist outside the city gates) he proclaims, ““Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34. When he was at his most alone moment in his earthly life he was concerned for those of us who were perpetrating those acts.
So I return to Lent. A season where we practice some form of apartness (I realize this is a made up word, but if you have a degree in Theology you are allowed to do this) or separation for the sake of coming a little bit closer to understanding the sacrifice God made for us. So maybe it’s not too bad to feel sick…maybe being low is really the only way to come a little bit closer to knowing what it feels like for Christ to love us when we discarded Him.
* A quick disclaimer: If these random thoughts lack cohesion it is due to the fact that I am not at my best…
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.