Monday, March 31, 2014

Evicting Complaints


            Every person on planet earth knows what a complaint is because we have all done it and we have all been the brunt of it.  In order to handle grumblers we must first deal with our own complaining spirit.  When our ancestors, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God and fell into a state of sin, their attitudes changed.  Whereas their reflex responses in the garden Paradise were to enjoy God and be open with Him, their automatic emotional reflexes after their fall were to hide and blame.  Adam’s first response to God after disobeying Him was to point his finger at Eve:  “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”  And Eve’s initial reflex attitude was blame, as well:  “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3).

The basic sinful nature of us humans from that time forward has been to have an automatic reflex attitude of blaming, quarreling, and complaining.  The heart drifts toward complaint as if by some gravitational pull because grumbling seems a reasonable response to disappointing events. Generally, you do not have to extend an invitation for complaint to show up. It arrives as an uninvited guest. You return home from a frustrating day to discover that complaint has moved into your guest room, unpacked its luggage, started a load of laundry, and is rooting through your fridge. Even as you work to evict complaint—as you move its bags to the curb and change the locks—it somehow crawls back into the guest room window. Complaint resists eviction.  Before we know it, complaint feels right because it is familiar. With every struggle, we become like the Israelites murmuring in the desert (Exodus 16-17). God desires to prepare our faith for his work and service in the community and in the world, but we are hunkered down in our automatic reflex pattern of grumbling.

We can discourage complaint's residency in our lives by inviting another guest to move in with us. That new guest is a prayerful attitude of trust and gratitude. When we choose to trust God and give Him thanks in the face of deep disappointment, complaint has less space to maneuver. While attempting to unpack for an extended stay, complaint discovers that trust and gratitude have taken all the drawers in the guest room and already occupies the empty seat at the supper table. Faith and gratitude evict complaint because faith and a grumbling spirit are not able to live in the same house together. One inevitably pushes the other one out.

It does not take any effort to complain most about the people closest to us – which is why marriages need to be continually strengthened; the relationship between pastor and people must always be nurtured; and, the closest relationship of all, with God, ought to be characterized not by murmuring and complaining, but by an automatic response of trust and gratitude in the face of trouble.

The ancient Israelites experienced the greatest miracle of the Old Testament – being delivered from harsh slavery in Egypt through the parting of the Red Sea so that they could walk across on dry ground and escape the Egyptian army’s pursuit.  It is easy to praise God when great things happen, and the Israelites had a whopper of a praise and worship service after that deliverance.  But it is quite another thing to praise and trust God when trouble happens – and when it happens over and over again.  Immediately after the praise and worship, Moses led the people into the desert and there was no water.  God led the people on purpose into a difficult situation because he wanted to test their faith.  Faith is a muscle that must be exercised so that it can strengthen and grow.  But the Israelites quickly forgot the blessings and grumbled about their situation.  The Israelites reflex attitude response was to complain and ignore God’s direct commands.  Maybe they did so because they spent four-hundred years in slavery in Egypt and complaint had made such a home with them there that it was second nature to them to murmur about their situation.

I keep a little c-clamp in my office to remind me that I am not in control, but God is.  The c-clamp also reminds me that I need to keep a clamp on my tongue when it comes to grumbling and complaining.  Sins of the tongue are some of the most dominant forms of disobedience to God in the Bible.  We use our words and our mouths because the tongue is powerful.  The Apostle James put it this way:  “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:7-8).  Here is a probing question:  Can any of us go 24 hours without complaining about something or someone?  Those of us who cannot answer 'yes' must recognize that we have a serious problem. If you cannot go 24 hours without drinking liquor, you are addicted to alcohol. If you cannot go 24 hours without smoking, you are addicted to nicotine. And if you cannot go 24 hours without grumbling about something or someone, then you have lost control over your tongue and you are addicted to murmuring and have an adulterous relationship with complaint.

We must drink from the well of everlasting life and not from the well of complaint.  Jesus is the Living Water we need.  If we find ourselves being compulsive complainers, it could be that we have not yet found the spiritual water we are thirsting for.  We complain because we are not content and we are thirsty.  So, drink deeply of Jesus Christ.  Everyone who drinks of complaint will never be satisfied.  But everyone who drinks the water Jesus gives will never thirst, and that water will become in that person a spring welling up to eternal life.

God is with us.  Difficult circumstances, trouble, hard situations, problem people, and the seeming impossibility that things will not change are not evidence that God isn’t there; instead, it is evidence that He is with us, wanting us to come to him and trust in his grace and provision.  Will you trust God with your impossible situation?  Will you give thanks to God for everything, including your trouble that humbles you to pray?  Will you come to the fount of Living Water and find satisfaction and contentment in Jesus Christ?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Victory Over Satan

            The big three enemies of every Christian are:  a sinful world system (1 John 2:15-16); the inherent sinful nature (Ephesians 4:22); and, the devil, who seeks to exploit the world and the sinful nature to tempt and move us into rebellion against God (1 Peter 5:8-9).  The good news is that Jesus Christ has obtained deliverance and freedom for His people from each of those enemies.  However, for this deliverance and freedom to be a practical reality in daily experience, each believer in Jesus must know and practice the truth.

            In the original Fall of humanity there was a passive response to the temptation of the serpent, an acceptance of doubt concerning God’s Word, the acceptance of insinuations concerning God’s goodness and wisdom, and a deliberate choice to follow the suggestions of Satan and disobey the only true and living God.  The seriousness of that Fall into disobedience cannot be overemphasized.  The Fall introduced the dimensions of sin, lust, depravity, slavery, ignorance, death and every form of evil into the human race.  In short, people became alienated from God and enslaved to the devil.  The final effects of this sinful bondage will not be completely severed until the final judgment.  The hold of the devil is so profound that it took the death of Jesus Christ and his resurrection to break that hold and make it possible for humanity to be redeemed.

            The descriptive titles given to Satan indicate his activity and what he is up to:  Tempter (Matthew 4:3); Deceiver (Revelation 12:9); Accuser (Revelation 12:10); Adversary (1 Peter 5:8); Murderer and Liar (John 8:44); the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4); and, the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2).  Holy Scripture indicates that a Christian can be significantly influenced by the machinations of Satan through:  giving the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27); lying (Acts 5:3); physical and spiritual attacks (Job 1-2; 2 Corinthians 12:7); deception (Revelation 12:9-10; 2 Corinthians 11:3); temptation (1 Corinthians 7:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:5); pride (1 Timothy 3:6); corruption (2 Corinthians 11:3); accusations (Revelation 12:10); hypocrisy (Acts 5:1-11); and, “fiery darts” (Ephesians 6:16).  In other words, the Christian ignores the activity of Satan at his/her peril.

            Satan’s purpose and aim is to keep each and every believer in Jesus from spiritual progress and maturity, and from the daily experience of living in the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  Unfortunately, the evidence of Satan’s success is all around us, and even in the church.  All Christians are under the attack of the enemy of our souls in some way, shape, or form.  When well-meaning Christians experience difficulty in prayer, in reading Scripture, in witnessing to the truth of Christ, in overcoming sins, and in maintaining right fellowship with other believers, then this is a tangible reminder of the subtle and powerful effect that Satan has in the church, not to mention the world.  Such a situation requires that we know and understand the provision we possess in overcoming the evil one.
            The most basic truth to know and practice is that in the crucifixion and resurrection the Lord Jesus Christ defeated Satan (Colossians 2:15).  Jesus has through his death and rising from death destroyed the power of death and delivered those held in bondage (Hebrews 2:14-15).  In fact, Jesus, the Son of God, came to this earth so that he might destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).  What is more, through the Ascension Jesus was seated in triumph over Satan and this tremendous victory has been given to each and every believer in Christ (Ephesians 1:19-21; 2:5-6).

            In order for this incredible access to become a reality there must be a complete and honest confession, repentance and renunciation of past and present sins.  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  There must be a complete and honest practice of the truth in the obedience of faith and love through standing with the truth (Ephesians 6:10-18).  There must be a complete and honest as well as aggressive resistance of the work of Satan through constant vigilance and standing firm (1 Peter 5:8-9).

            When you are made to feel guilty but do not know what you have done or why you should feel this way – then be aggressive about rejecting it.  When you are accused (i.e. “If you were really a Christian you would not be thinking a thought like that…”) - then be aggressive about refusing the guilt.  When your thoughts, emotions, and desires threaten to get out of hand – then take charge of them and bring them into subjection to Jesus.  You have all the authority of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension behind you to reject and refuse error and satanic whispers.

            Know the enemy’s lies and deceptions and be aggressive about dealing with them according to the truth of the gospel.  Always attempting this alone is somewhat like trying to be an army of one – it would go much better with the help of the church as we share, pray, and practice the truth together in the context of community.  May the kingdom of God come in all its fullness as Christians learn to know and practice the truth.  Soli Deo Gloria.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

You Must Be Born Again

It could be that being “born again” is a settled thing for you.  You are saved, sanctified, and redeemed by the blood; you have seen the one way track to on high and are on the Jesus train to heaven!   But consider this:  In Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), Nicodemus considered his relation to God as a settled matter.  Nicodemus was a good guy; an upstanding Jewish citizen; a devout and pious man; he had Old Testament Scripture quotes all over his Facebook page; a Fiddler on the Roof ringtone on his cell phone; he was a faithful Temple worship attender; and, a member of the most prestigious religious group around.  Nicodemus was not a bad guy; he was not a religious huckster; not a shady politician; and, not any kind of unsavory character.  And, yet, it was this very guy, Nicodemus, whom Jesus said:  “You must be born again.” 

            Why in the world would Jesus say this to such a good egg as Nicodemus?  He told Nicodemus that he must be born again because Nicodemus was a big fan of Jesus, but not really a committed follower of Jesus.  The Lord Jesus Christ is not looking for adoring admirers; he does not want thousands of fans sitting in the stands of life giving him cheers and props for being a godly teacher and performing some really cool miracles.  Jesus is looking for people to move from being cheerleaders and admirers to taking up their cross and following him no matter the cost.  For all his good deeds, Nicodemus needed to have a totally new life in following Jesus.

            The further away we are from birth, the easier it is to take God for granted and to have such a spiritually settled way of life that the mystery, wonder, and awe of life is slowly drained from us.  That’s why I think two-year-olds probably know more about God than anyone around – since they can articulate the wonder of life being only a few short years from their birth.  One night I came home and walked into the kitchen to find my four-year old grandson unashamedly crawling on all fours with his face barely off the floor.  I said, “Kolten, what in the world are you doing?”  He looked up at me with a twinkle in his eye and a serious tone in his voice and said, “I’m sniffing for clues.”  None of us will likely be found on our kitchen floors sniffing for clues, but would any of us be found by another sniffing for clues of God and doggedly pursuing him and following hard after him? 

            The problem with Nicodemus is that, because he was such a good guy, he did not see himself as in need of a new life.  Meeting Jesus at night was deeply symbolic of the fact that Nicodemus was literally “in the dark” about his true spiritual condition and the true reality of God’s ways and how the world works in God’s kingdom.  He was not willing to step into the light of the day and stand up for Jesus as a devoted follower.  Nicodemus was quite content to maintain his position as only a fan of Jesus.

            So, how do we move from being merely a fan to being a follower of Jesus?  We must believe in Jesus.  To truly believe in Jesus means that we must move from a mere intellectual faith that the teachings of Jesus are wise, just, right, and good.  To truly believe in Jesus means that we must move from having only a heartfelt faith that is warmed and cheered when seeing Jesus perform a miracle.  To truly believe in Jesus means we move to an actual spiritual life of complete and total trust in Jesus as a dedicated follower.  This is more than simply asking Jesus to help us get out of a jam or a bad situation; it is more than simply asking Jesus into my heart; it is telling Jesus that at last we are putting ourselves in his gracious hands so completely that we want Jesus to decide what to do with us and remove any and all shortcomings, character defects, and sins from us.  It is to be cleansed, like being born again and having a new life. 

            We cannot be deceived into thinking that all we need is a little spiritual elbow grease to have eternal life.  Instead, we must intentionally and deliberately relinquish control of our lives and of everything to Jesus and become his faithful followers.  Information is not transformation; and, observing transformation in another person’s life is not a substitute for transformation in my own life.

            Jesus does not want to have a bunch of groupies admiring him in the dark; he wants to save the world – which is why God sent his Son to be lifted up on a cross.  Maybe the biggest threat to Christ’s church today are fans who call themselves Christians but are not actually interested in following Jesus.  They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.  Fans, like Nicodemus, often confuse their admiration for devotion.  They mistake their knowledge of Jesus for an actual relationship with Jesus.  Fans assume that their good works and their good intentions make up for any need of being a full-time follower and living a new life.

            What does moving from being a fan to being a follower mean for us?  For some, it means taking the step of making a public profession of faith; for others it means believing in Jesus for the very first time, trusting that God has not only forgiven others of their sin, but forgives me as well through the cross; for some it means taking up the mantle of service in the church; for others it means becoming part of a small group or a bible study; for us all it means moving from hiding in the shadows to coming into the light of God’s truth and openly living for God in every facet of our lives.  May it be so.  Soli Deo Gloria.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

One Man's Take on Marijuana

           My grandson is four years old, and he has epilepsy.  When hooked up to an EEG last year the data showed that my little buddy at times experiences as many as three seizures per minute.  Granted, they are not the grand mal, big-daddy-of-them-all kind of seizures.  Nevertheless, they are still seizures.  The doctors at the best pediatric facility in the Midwest for this kind of thing tell us that, well, they are stumped.  Kolten has experienced up to seven different kinds of seizures, and he has defied any kind of solid diagnosis as to the nature of the epilepsy, let alone even thinking about a prognosis.  Yes, he is on medication – lots of it.  Without it he would be having literally hundreds of seizures in any given day.  Yet, even on a good day Kolten will have dozens.  And even though most of his seizures last only a few seconds, each and every seizure damages the brain, if only a little bit.  Add up the thousands of seizures over the span of a four year old life, and factor the tens of thousands of them he will yet have in the next several years and it, in my puny limited understanding, doesn’t look promising no matter how you examine it.

            So, why in the world am I talking about this in a blog about church ministry?  Because when well-meaning Christians and churches rant about the ethics and morality of ungodly “potheads” having a legal avenue for their recreational smoking, what gets lost in the mix is a little boy who could potentially be helped by legalizing marijuana – not by taking a toke of a reefer, but by a carefully genetically engineered strain administered medically and safely.  In this grandfather’s mind, the greater risk is to keep doing what we’ve always done and hope that all will work out okay someday.  When it pertains to a small boy’s life - that kind of thinking doesn’t cut it for me. 

            Unfortunately, this kind of ignorant proclamation is nothing new for many “believers” in Jesus.  Just this week I attended a local denominational meeting in which a man stood up and rather angrily proclaimed as unquestioned fact that our current U.S. President is trampling our Constitution and that we are being judged as a nation for killing babies.  Without me even attempting to deal with any rightness or wrongness to that statement, the only kind of good that that kind of proclamation did was personal to the proclaimer – he just got something off his chest, and maybe he felt better for it.  But I was left wondering:  What about the supporters of the President in the room?  Instantly demonizing others and polarizing on a position only shuts down what they really think and feel about our country.  What about women who have had an abortion?  I cannot even begin to imagine that if there was a woman in the room who had an abortion in the past having to sit and listen to a guy put a label on her as a murderer.  There is enough cutting regret and grief in many a woman’s own heart without having someone twist the knife for her.

            There is a reason why many people in many churches often do not want others to know what they really think about certain issues, and why they want to keep all their skeletons in the closet.  They do not want to be judged and condemned, and they have every reason to think that they will be when they hear the raving of fellow Christians who believe they are doing God a favor by effecting holiness through noise.  It behooves us as the church of Jesus to do the best we possibly can to create and sustain a culture of compassion and care through continual monitoring of what actually comes out of our mouths.  When there are oft mentions of the sin of homosexuality peppered with defaming names; when there is a stream of hateful references to particular politicians; when there is anger about certain persons and people groups; and, when there is a blanket denunciation of marijuana as always being linked with persons getting high; then there is not an atmosphere of grace that leads to life, but a culture of fear that leads to death.

            Where some see the “issue” of gays and lesbians, I see people created in the image of God who have the same need of a Savior that I do.  Where some see governmental “issues,” I see persons in need of God’s justice and peace and basic human rights and decency.  Where some see the “issues” of poor lower class people versus upper class wealthy people; Hispanic concerns versus Black concerns; blue collar people’s agenda versus white collar people’s agenda; plain Americans versus hyphenated Americans; instead, I see people, just people – people in need of Jesus Christ and His continuing presence on earth:  the church.

            My daughter needs support with her special needs son who happens to have epilepsy.  I am glad I can be there for her and for him.  I am glad I am a pastor of a church who cares about them.  This old sinful world has enough sin and pain in it without adding to the pile through ignorance and strife.  Before we use our tongues, let’s have some working knowledge and some basic education about what we are talking about.  Most of all, let’s have some basic decorum and some working knowledge of God’s grace.  “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly” is a statement that applies to us all.  So, roll that one together and smoke it daily.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Hiding from God

Our human nature tends to look at the one thing we cannot do, instead of seeing all the range of possibilities that we can do.  The serpent, the devil, was successful in getting Adam and Eve to focus on that one tree they needed to avoid (Genesis 3:1-7).  Instead of seeing all the prospects of life with God, in our fallen condition just tell us what we cannot do and we will probably be sure to do it.  More than that, the devil subtly planted a terrible and untruthful idea in the heads of Adam and Eve – that God was somehow holding out on them and was not providing everything they really needed and wanted in life.  Sin looks really good, and even initially tastes really good.  Yet, sin has an awful aftertaste and reeks inside us.  Sin always over-promises and under-delivers.

            We all face temptation, sin, and the effects of sin.  Perhaps the greatest impact of sin is sewing fig leaves for ourselves and hiding – hiding from God, hiding from one another, and even hiding from ourselves.  All this hiding causes us to be spiritually blind, and to sleepwalk through hell unaware of our true spiritual condition.  Because of this reality, we all need a Savior to deliver us.  Apart from God we are only dust.  We need God’s Spirit to breathe life into us.  We need God’s Spirit to breathe life into the church.  We need God’s Spirit to grace us with conviction of sin, and breathe new life into us so that we may again enjoy him in Paradise.  Just as we did not give ourselves life and cause ourselves to be born, so we cannot give ourselves new life but must be born again by God’s Spirit.

            Hiding with fig leaves is the symbolic way of demonstrating that Adam and Eve were acting independently, and were now going to operate on their own apart from God.  Our fallen spiritual condition does not want to acknowledge our need for the sheer grace of God.  Instead, we hide our true motives and desires.  Through The Fall we are inclined to look for ways to deal with problems in our lives apart from God.

            We want to return to Paradise, and we devise all kinds of thoughts and ways of doing that.  Paradise always seems to be “out there” somewhere.  In our fallen condition, we buy into the “if only” syndrome instead of dealing with the sin in our own hearts.  If only we had that one thing, then we would be happy and be in Paradise.  Single people may look for that special someone, believing that Paradise will come if they meet Mr. Right or Miss All That.  Married persons may think that if only their spouse would be more like _____, then Paradise will come.  Kids might believe that when they grow up, then there will be independence and they can do whatever they want and there will be Paradise.  “If only” we had more money.  “If only” we had a bigger house, another car, or more power and influence.  “If only” other people would stop being jerks, care more, serve more, love more.  “If only” I had my way then, we think, there would surely be a restoration to Paradise.

We often expect way too much of relationships with others.  A woman will never find a man who completes her because no man can fix what is broken within her heart.  Even If every woman had a man who thought of nothing but her, how to romance her, how to love and encourage her, she would still be empty.  No man is enough.  Every woman needs a Savior.  And a man will never find a woman that takes care of everything in his life.  Even if every man came home each evening to a woman who was all dolled-up with a freshly grilled steak on the table for him, he would still be empty because no woman can fix what is broken within his heart.  Neither red meat nor any woman can provide for a man what he really needs.  Men need a Savior.  We all need a Savior.  We all need deliverance from our disordered loves and misguided attempts to find Paradise in this life apart from God.  The temptation after The Fall is to try and find Paradise outside of God through perfect relationships and ideal circumstances.  Yet, what we really need is to repent of the sin of our own hearts, and deal with the brokenness of our own lives.  And that is what the season of Lent is all about.

In this season of Lent, we must repent of our hiding and wishing for everything and everyone else to be different without any cost to ourselves.  What do you need to repent of in this season?  Who are the people that you look to do for you what only God can do?  Have you forsaken your first love of Jesus Christ?  Has your relationship with God been non-existent?  Has it been stale, dull, and lacking passion, desire, and energy?  Has distance replaced intimacy between you and God?  Do you avoid the spiritual disciplines of bible reading and prayer because you believe something else will satisfy the real needs of your heart?  Are you keeping up appearances and hiding, while on the inside you have doubt, depression, and despair that things will never change? 

May you have the courage to face the empty places of your heart and allow the unconditional grace of Jesus to cleanse and fill your soul.  Soli Deo Gloria.

Friday, March 7, 2014


            Truth is one of the greatest possessions we own.  To know the truth and to practice it is the key to success in every area of life.  This is especially true for the Christian.  All truth finds its source in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).  Jesus taught that if anyone would live in fellowship with Him through the practice of truth they would have the “light of life” (John 8:12).  God expects us to practice the truth He has revealed to us.  One of our most serious hindrances is the neglect of learning truth and our failure to practice what we know to be true.  An important truth which every believer in Jesus must accept is that the Christian will serve that which he yields to himself/herself (Romans 6:16).

            Jesus Christ, as our representative, fulfilled all the demands of Old Testament law for us.  His work is imputed to the believing sinner who thereby becomes righteous and forgiven (Romans 3:24-31; 5:1-11).  Through identification with Jesus in his crucifixion and resurrection the believer is set free from the penalty and bondage of sin and will no longer be characterized by the dominion of sin (Romans 6:1-14; 1 John 3:9).

            This does not mean, however, that the believer never sins again in this life.  What it means is that when we sin we not only disobey God, lose fellowship with Him, hinder our spiritual progress, and fail to be a good example – we become characterized by and enslaved to our sin.  When we seek to have something or someone else replace the atoning work of Jesus on the cross to meet the most basic needs of our lives, we have set that something or someone up as our idol to worship.

            Jesus said that we cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:19-24).  When we serve God we live in freedom; when we serve money we become idol worshipers and become enslaved to it, trusting that money will be our ticket to real freedom and happiness.  The issue here is not how much or how little money we actually possess, but the place of money of in our lives and what it stands for – how it figures in our list of priorities.  Many believers today serve God with their lips, but in reality they are in bondage to money.  The evidence is in how we live.  If we are willing to sacrifice almost anything and everything to gain money, then we have set up financial security as the thing we really worship and adore.

            Jesus said that when we know the truth, it is truth that can make us free (John 8:32).  Whenever we commit a sin, we become the servant of that sin.  This is more than being caught in addictions such as alcohol, gambling, pornography, and overeating.  Persons with “clean” lives can also fall prey to the errors of believing that regular church attendance, giving ten percent of income to the church, being nice, growing up with Christian parents, working hard, or being an all-around “good” person are the things that secure a right relationship with God and provide the best things in life.  Idolatry is not only tied to addictions; it can be tethered to our virtues, good deeds, and self-righteousness.

            This season of Lent is to be a time of healthy introspection, taking a fierce moral and spiritual inventory of our lives, and identifying and repenting of everything that we have replaced God with as an idol. 

--What or whom do you identify as your primary means of security and significance?
--Do you have any anger or resentment toward those who pose a threat to whatever it is you tie your security and significance to?
--What fears do you have about giving up certain possessions, activities, or even relationships?
--List the activities and behaviors that you continue to do even though you know it is not in your best interest to do them.  Admit your helplessness to God, receive the work of Jesus on your behalf, and tell a trusted pastor or church leader about your issue.

            We must not allow ourselves to live careless lives, but to live in the freedom that comes from knowing and practicing the truth.  May our Lenten journey lead us to new hope and life in Christ.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ash Wednesday

The season of Lent is a reminder that we live a sinful fallen world; that judgment is coming; that we must respond to sin with a humble return to God so that we can be spared and the Lord’s Name may be upheld.  Just as we prepare for big events in our lives, like weddings or commencements, Lent is a time to prepare our hearts in anticipation of remembering Christ’s passion and resurrection.

            Lent is a solemn season in the Church Calendar.  Ash Wednesday begins this forty-day season that is to be characterized by penitence, fasting, and self-examination.  In other words, Lent is a call to prayer and repentance, with fasting as a very practical way of devoting oneself to a deliberate connection with God.

            The heart of the Lenten message is that we must return to the Lord.  When there was a need for the Israelites to return to the Lord, the people were called to a prayer service (i.e. Joel 2).  The prayers they offered were confessions to God, petitions for God’s grace and favor, and affirmations of confidence in God.  Fasting, weeping, and mourning communicate the seriousness and sincerity of the people’s repentance.  It is our hearts that need rending, and not our clothes.

            Imagine you are out for a hike on a beautiful spring day and you come to a creek. You notice that someone has dumped trash into the stream—not a pretty sight. Judging by some of the empty soda cans, the trash has been there awhile. And there is an ugly film on top of the water. You cannot just leave the scene as you found it, because it would bother your conscience. So you stoop down and begin gathering the trash.  It actually takes several hours before you can begin to see a difference; it's amazing how much junk is there. You sit back, rest for a moment, and realize you'll have to keep returning each day until the site is truly clean. But when you come back the next day, it's as if your work has been undone.  In fact there's more trash than before. Somehow the garbage bred overnight. You think about the unlikelihood of someone coming to this very spot to dump their garbage in the few hours while you were away, and you realize that something smells fishy—so to speak. So you begin to follow the creek upstream.  Sure enough, you come to a garbage dump that has been there for years. It's emptying into the passing creek. Your cleaning job only opened up a gap for more stuff to settle. You could go and clean every day.  But if you want your creek to be clean, that means going directly to the source and dealing with what's there.

Our hearts are the source from which our lives flow. Unfortunately, we spend great amounts of time, money, and energy—even in the church—doing trash removal "downstream." But real transformation begins when we travel upstream to the source of our heart. Our real struggles and sins take place where no one sees: in the heart.

We must enter this season of Lent and cry out to God to spare his people and not give others a reason to scorn us for our lack of humility and attention to the Lord.  Let us, then, worship and fall down, and weep before the Lord our Maker.  Let us mourn over sin, and anticipate God’s anger by confessing those things which displease him.  Let us equally anticipate God’s grace, because he is compassionate and relents from sending calamity.  Let us take responsibility for fully, and not partially, confessing sin to God.  Let us find our hope in God because he is the only One who can deliver us from every trouble, especially the judgment to come.  Who knows? Perhaps the Lord will choose to leave us blessing and will break open the doors of his goodness.

For those attending an Ash Wednesday service, let the imposition of ashes upon your forehead signify that you are repenting from trusting in things other than Christ; that you will cease attempting to rely, on the one hand, your own ingenuity, and, on the other, a simple formalism of only going through the motions of Christianity.  Let the sign of the cross upon you mark your heart, and not just your head.  May the Lord have mercy upon us, bless us beyond what we can ask or think, and give us peace.