We will soon enter the season of Lent. A 40-day time period of preparation before Easter where many Christians observe a period of fasting, repentance, moderation, self-denial and other spiritual disciplines. All of these disciplines are designed to help set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ and his life, suffering, sacrifice, death, burial, and resurrection.
Ash Wednesday on February 17 marks the onset of the Lent, It is also known as the 'Day of Ashes', because on that day at church the faithful have their foreheads marked with ashes in the shape of a cross. The name 'Day of Ashes' comes from "Dies Cinerum" in the Roman Missal and is found in the earliest existing copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary. The concept originated by the Roman Catholics somewhere in the 6th century. Though the exact origin of the day is not clear, the custom of marking the head with ashes on this Day is said to have originated during the papacy of Gregory the Great (590-604).
In the Old Testament ashes were used for two purposes: a sign of humility and mortality; and as a sign of sorrow and repentance for sin. As Christians we continue to make this same connection on Ash Wednesday. We receive ashes on our head in the sign of the cross to remind us of our mortality and our sorrow for sin. We enter into a state of penitence as we humble ourselves before God and recognize that only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we defeat the impulses of our sinful desires.
In 2021 we will be having a digital Ash Wednesday service. Ash Wednesday has traditionally been a short somber service and we will continue that practice. It also has been a very small service but I hope you will consider joining this year. I believe you will be blessed, challenged, and encouraged. Please be looking for the emails that will include the information you will need to log in to either Zoom or Facebook at 7PM on Wednesday February 17.
I hope that you have received your Lenten devotional in the mail. This will be the focus of our Wednesday night studies all the way up until Easter. If you did not get one please email the church at firstname.lastname@example.org with your physical address and we will get one to you as soon as possible.
An excerpt from Philip Yancey’s book “Disappointment with God”:
We hear the words every Christmas season at church pageants when children dress up in bathrobes and act out the story of Jesus’ birth. “Fear not!” lisps the six-year-old angel, his bedsheet costume dragging the ground, his coat-hanger-frame wings flapping ever so slightly from the trembling of his body. He sneaks a glance at the script hidden in the folds of his sleeve. “Fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy.” Already he has appeared to Zechariah (his older brother with a taped-on cotton beard) and to Mary (a freckled blonde from the second grade). He used the same greeting for both, “Fear not!...”
These were also God’s first words to Abraham, and to Hagar, and to Isaac. “Fear not!” the angels said in greeting Gideon and the prophet Daniel. For supernatural beings, that phrase served almost as the equivalent of “Hello, how are you?” Little wonder. By the time the supernatural being spoke, the human being was usually lying face down in a cataleptic state. When God made contact with planet Earth, sometimes the supernatural encounter sounded like thunder, sometimes it stirred the air like a whirlwind, and sometimes it lit up the scene like a flash of phosphorous. Nearly always it caused fear. But the angels who visited Zechariah and Mary and Joseph heralded that God was about to appear in a form that would not frighten.
What could be less scary than a newborn baby with jerky limbs and eyes that do not quite focus? In Jesus, born in a barn or cave or laid in a feeding trough, God found at last a mode of approach that humanity need not fear. The king had cast off his robes.
How often do we pray? What do we expect when we pray? Does God answer every prayer? All great questions but we must take a step back and contemplate a very basic question, what is prayer? Prayer is simply talking to God. I have heard many public prayers over the years (and have prayed a few) where the person praying ceases talking to God and begins to address their audience or their own ideas.
God must be the central focus of every prayer otherwise it is not prayer but simply a pontification or if we are alone, we are only talking to ourselves. We must stand, sit, kneel, or prostrate in awe as we realize we are talking to the all-powerful being who created the universe. We don’t need to impress God with our vocabulary or creative metaphors because if God knows us perfectly there is no reason to put on any sort of pretense. Therefore, we have the privilege of talking to God, humbly and honestly.
This brings me back to my first question; how often do we pray? I know as I have evaluated my prayer life I came to a simple conclusion, not enough. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 puts it simply and succinctly “pray continually.” Yes, this verse does compete with John 11:35 as one of the shortest in the Bible. I believe that God has commanded us to pray and instructed us on how to pray and that through prayer my life and other’s life will change.
With all of this in mind I have created a challenge to myself that I would like to extent to you based on our year verse, Ephesians 3:20. If God can do immeasurable more than we ask, this verse assumes that we ask. This verse also clearly indicates that God’s power will always be the authority behind any answered prayer. I would like to challenge all of us to pray for God’s transforming power in each of our lives, our communities and our world. Trust that God will do immeasurably more in your life, in the lives of your family and friends and across our country.
Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV
As we start a new year, the Bible tells us there can be hope for the future.
First, there is hope of a changed person. No matter how hard we try, we are incapable of ridding ourselves of the selfishness and greed that cause conflict and strife and war. Our only hope is a changed heart – Jesus is in the business of changing hearts.
Second, there is hope of changed world. When we know Christ, He gives us by His Spirit a new love and concern for others. We can no longer be indifferent to their sufferings, and we’ll want to do something about them. Changed by Christ, we can begin to change our world.
Third, there is hope of an unchanging eternity in Heaven. This world is not all there is. Someday all its pain and heartache will come to an end for those who know Christ (Revelation 21:4). Evil and death will be abolished, and we will be safely in God’s presence forever.
As you read the headlines or look at your own life, you may be wondering if there is any hope. The answer from the Bible is a resounding yes.
These encouraging words of wisdom come from January 2nd of Billy Graham’s Wisdom for Each Day. God is in the business of changing lives and situations and God uses us as agents of change. No matter how much a person or a situation disappoints or discourages us, I pray that we will never lose hope. Let us all hold on to our eternal hope while we trust in God who can transform our lives and the world.
Happy New Year!
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances”
- the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians
If I am willing to stop and be honest with myself for just a few moments these words create in me many more questions than answers.
Can I say this? Do I live a life controlled and consumed by contentment?
When was the last time I was truly content? Where was I? What was I doing?
What does contentment look like? Feel Like? Can it be experienced?
How much money do I need? How much success do I need? How complete do my relationships need to be? How much control do I need to have?
I know what Whatever means. It means, no matter what. But, people I love die. But, I don’t live up to my own expectations. But, I am afraid of the future and ashamed of the past.
What are the things of this world that I can completely trust? Who are the people in this world I can completely trust? Can I even trust myself?
One word comes to mind, Hope. I must live with Hope. Hope, that Jesus did die for my sins, is my redeemer and the way to eternal life. Hope, that the Holy Spirit is with me and will comfort and guide me. Solomon reminds me, “Anyone who is among the living has hope.” I’m still alive so there is hope for me. And yes I mean that both ways. Hope is for me and there is Hope for me. My only hope for living a life of contentment is to learn to live with Hope. I must each day place all of my trust in God who is sovereign over all. Yes, I doubt. Yes, I make mistakes. But, the God who fearfully and wonderfully made me will never leave me or forsake me.