My son, hear my words, words most sweet, excelling all the learning of philosopher and the wise men of this world. My words are spirit and life and are not to be weighed by human standards … Write my words in your heart, and think diligently on them; for they will be very necessary in the time of temptation. THOMAS À KEMPIS, THE IMITATION OF CHRIST
Beacon Hill Press (2011-09-01). Year B: Ashes to Fire: Daily Reflections from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost (Kindle Locations 651-653). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.
PRAYER—O Lord, govern my life by your wisdom, so that my soul may always be serving you as you desire, not as I may choose. Do not grant what I ask if it offends your love, which must always be living in me. Let me die to myself, that I may serve you; let me live to you, for you are the true life. Amen. (John Wesley)*
*Beacon Hill Press (2011-09-01). Year B: Ashes to Fire: Daily Reflections from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost (Kindle Locations 467-469). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.
World Vision is a great organization working to relieve all kinds suffering in the name of Christ. If you’re looking for a way to put your faith into action this Lenten season, check out this link.
After Day 1 & 2 feedback from users I would encourage any Christian who wants to explore the Lenten and Easter seasons to pick up this daily devotional guide. It’s well-written. Takes you through the Daily Office plan for reading through the Bible, pulls highlights from these readings, and offers brief guides to prayer for each day. With your Bible in hand, you can go as deep as you want. On days you’re seriously pressed for time you can keep the discipline going by pulling from the highlights and praying. Along the way you have several opportunities to journal your progress and prayers. Inspirational Art. Prayers from past spiritual giants. A very complete portable guide to Spiritual Growth!
Today begins a 14 week journey of faith called Ashes to Fire. It begins in the ashes of repentance and reflection. Ashes are an ancient symbol of death. The ancients had a much closer relationship with death than we do today. Hospitals, nursing homes, and funeral homes keep us separated strangely from our mortality. One thing we can’t separate ourselves from is grief. As Coldplay reminds us: sometimes you “lose something you can’t replace.” It became a tradition to make a physical statement of loss and reflection by covering oneself with ashes and even tearing garments or putting on obviously uncomfortable ones. No need to pretend or save face. Something or someone important has been lost. It’ll be a while before we’re restored to normal. Sackcloth and Ashes.
Physical death and grief are devastating realities. But so is spiritual death caused by sin. When we realize we’ve been on a wrong path sometimes we need a powerful symbol to validate a definite u-turn. Sin is anything that gets in-between us and God.
It could be just about anything: Disobedience to known commands from Scripture. Disobedience to the guiding voice of the Spirit or our conscience. Preoccupation with things of the world (entertainments, material goods, career advancement, even family) which keeps us consistently from being close to God. Unforgiveness toward the sins and imperfections of others. Lustful thoughts, overly sensual attitudes or dress, allowing are eyes to wander are also examples of sins. Pride of life or dress. Spiritual pride toward the outward sins of others. Spiritual hypocrisy of hiding our true motives. Half-hearted devotion or service to God. Unbridled anger. The list could be endless. But the results are similar. Spiritual death. Scripture warns us as soon as we become aware of sin we should confess it and deal with it before God and others.
But there is value in regularly and intentionally bringing both of these realities together in a public way. All of us will die someday and therefore must live sober lives. All of us have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. None of us are so holy as to not have areas of life which need renewal. So Ash Wednesday is like a big family meeting where everybody checks in with their commitment to God above all. It’s a solemn assembly that reminds us all that repentance is the only path to forgiveness. God is our only hope for eternal life. We admit that we are prone to drift away from Him if we just leave it in default mode.
And so we come. Apart from work and family and chores and entertainments. We come to God. We acknowledge we were born in sin and will die forever unless we receive God’s grace. Sin is serious business and we are having a going-out-of-business sale. Ashes on the forehead symbolize that we know we are dust and desire to have spiritual life, given by God. We kneel, we are marked with a cross. We rise in repentance. We pray for newness of life. We rehearse the great forgiveness that is ours. And we wipe away the ashes, anticipating a renewed walk with God. Just a simple ceremony. We could totally phone it in or fake it. Absolutely. Nothing magical about it. But for a few moments each year there is a fresh reminder of how deadly sin is and how amazing grace is. Why not do it for real? And should we stumble again before next year, we’ll remember how big a deal it is and know exactly what to do: repent, take it seriously, and be assured of forgiveness before sin swallows us up. We lose things we can’t replace. We break things we can’t fix ourselves. But God can. Ash Wednesday.
We begin in the ashes of repentance. By the grace of God we rise to seek Him more and grow in grace between now and Pentecost at the end of May. So let’s begin the journey with Jesus together.
Well, today is a famous date on the Christian calendar. Unfortunately it’s highly misunderstood. Typically, people say this is the day Christians are supposed to act like pagans and lose themselves in fleshly indulgences. Seriously? While it may be an awesome excuse for a party, it couldn’t be further from the truth. These “festivals” are not really in line with Scripture in any way. The most likely Christian origin of Fat Tuesday was that rich or fatty foods were not to be in the homes of Christians during Lent, a season of fasting and special devotion. So any rich foods that couldn’t survive for 40 days had to be consumed in order to not be wasted. So people would feast, usually at home, clearing out the pantry for Lent.
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”
(Romans 14:17 ESV)
But for biblical Christians our focus shouldn’t be on food. Today, as everyday, our focus should be on life in the Spirit. Shrove (repentance/absolution) Tuesday is a more fruitful path. Take a moral and spiritual inventory. Ask the Holy Spirit to make you aware of any areas where closer obedience is required. Commit these areas to God and prepare to focus on spiritual growth for the Lenten season beginning to tomorrow. We all need renewal. Don’t just give up vices for Lent. Be done with them. Period. From the ashes of defeat could rise a burning fire of devotion to God above all.
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, reminding us we came from dust and we have an appointment with death. This life is not about fleshly indulgences. Whenever we lean on fleshly pleasures or human will, we fail. God’s grace (love, forgiveness, spiritual power) alone can save us. God’s grace alone (through prayer, Bible, worship, communion, holy hanging out, sharing your faith, serving others, etc…) can fuel a Christian life that overcomes.
Tomorrow we’re beginning a journey called Ashes to Fire. Today, identify those places of disobedience and defeat. We’ll be asking God to breathe on these ashes, that we may rise in the power of the Spirit. Apart from God we have only death. With God true life is given. Real change. Deep joy. Peace. That’s what God will bring to those who seek him.
Join us at 7pm Feb 22, 2012 at NewHope Community Church of the Nazarene
So what areas of life need attention? Where is Jesus calling you to “cut the fat” in your spiritual journey? Are you headed toward righteousness, peace, and joy or is a detour necessary? Let God supply the power. Give it all to God and learn how to obey all the way from Ashes (Feb 22) to Fire! (May 27) Join thousands of Christians on a journey of transformation!