Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten Season. You could go all day and never encounter a reminder that this is Ash Wednesday. Or you could go to the bus stop and see someone wearing ashes on their forehead in a mark that looks something like a cross. As I am writing this, I have not seen a single person this year with ashes on their forehead.
Earlier today I got an mail entitled “It’s Not Too Late: 3 Ways To Enhance Your Lenten Reflection”. In it, it said that Lent is a time of preparation for Easter. I believe that Ash Wednesday can help us begin to prepare for Easter as we enter the Lenten Season. Some people celebrate holidays or Holy days without ever encountering the meaning: Thanksgiving Day without the giving of thanks, Christmas day without a living Savior, and Easter Sunday without a risen Lord.
In Mark 2:17 it says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
These words serve as a good introduction to Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is when the journey toward Easter begins. Ash Wednesday can help us begin our preparation for Easter by teaching us to mourn the past (repentance), to examine the present (rededication), and to look forward toward an exciting future (hope). This can be done through various ways such as fasting, praying, meditation, reflection, etc.
Ash Wednesday is about repentance: Jesus reminds us that repentance can include sackcloth and ashes. Perhaps we have lost our first love in following Christ and need to repent, or turn around. We all need to repent of something. Psalm 51 is a good reading for Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday is about rededication. When Jesus said that those who are healthy do not need a doctor, He was asking each one of them to examine themselves. Only those who admit they are sick will go to a physician, and only when we acknowledge our sin can we receive (experience) His forgiveness. Ash Wednesday is an opportunity to examine our need anew and to affirm that we will always need a Savior. Perhaps we need to repent and then rededicate ourselves. Colossians 2:6 says, “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to walk in Him.”
Ash Wednesday is about hope. As Ash Wednesday begins our journey through Lent, our final destination is Easter Sunday. We know the outcome. He’s Alive!!!!! And Easter Sunday is more than a remembrance of the past. It is about hope for the future. Perhaps after we have repented and rededicated ourselves, we need to reflect on the promise of the resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15 is a must read. Christ’s resurrection is the promise of our resurrection, complete with an eternal future of joy. Amen!
God bless you as you journey through the Lenten season towards Easter.
Reading the Bible is a journey to hear from the Lord. It’s a time to pause and reflect on God and the truths of Scripture. Meditating and/or journaling as you read the Bible is a valuable way to process your thoughts, reflect on God, and apply the Scriptures to your life.
What better way to start the practice of meditating/journaling than during the winter months when we are often cooped up inside or don’t want to go out. I’ve included a few passages with meditating/journaling prompts to help you meditate, reflect, and consider how the Scriptures can be applied to your life.
His Understanding is Unsearchable / Isaiah 40:28
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
Neither God’s strength nor understanding can be equated with anything we experience here on earth. He is Creator, Everlasting, Omnipotent, and Inscrutable. He neither faints nor is weary and He has the ability to meet all our needs.
Is this your concept of God? In what other ways are God’s ways unsearchable? In what ways might you be underestimating Him? Humbly thank God for His limitless understanding and the depths of His great power.
The Wisdom of Knowing Christ / 1 Corinthians 1:24-25
…but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than humanity, and the weakness of God is stronger than humanity.
Knowing Christ personally is the greatest wisdom we can have. As “foolish” people, we who accept Christ’s offer of salvation will live eternally with God.
What does the phrase “wisdom of God” mean to you? If you have accepted Christ as your Savior reflect back to God what the wisdom of knowing Him means to you.
Making the Most of Our Days / Ephesians 5:15-16
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Paul directs us to make the most of our days and communicates a sense of urgency with the pervasiveness of evil in our world. We are wise to take advantage of every opportunity for service and to advance Christ’s purposes in this world, making the most of our limited days on earth.
Think about how you are using your time and how you might “redeem” it. To “walk circumspectly” means to step gingerly. Think about the path you are on in terms of the people you spend time with and the opportunities you have for service.
Wisdom is a Gift from God / Ecclesiastes 8:1
Who is like a wise person?
And who knows the interpretation of a thing?
A person’s wisdom makes their face shine,
And the sternness of their face is changed.
Wisdom is a gift from God and has the effect of brightening our face. Out of the depths of understanding, we are able to enjoy life and build others up.
We gain wisdom from knowing God and seeing life from His perspective. Think about the wise, godly people you know and their countenance. Is there someone who would benefit from the wisdom you’ve gained in knowing God?
Speak Wisely / Colossians 4:5-6
Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.
We should be wise in our contacts with non-believers making the most of opportunities that God gives us to share the Good News of Jesus.
Are you conscious of your “witness” to those who don’t know Christ? Are you respectful and gracious? Is there something God is doing in your life that you might share and bring Him glory?
God Gives Generously / James 1:5
If any of you lacks wisdom, let them ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to them.
During difficult circumstances, James tells us that if we need wisdom, we can pray to God, and He will generously give us what we need. The wisdom God gives during these times is often the way through the difficulty rather than how to make the difficulty go away.
Do you have a steadfast confidence that God controls all circumstances and is guiding all things for His good purposes? Ask God for wisdom in the things that challenge you today. Thank Him that He is able and always supplies our needs through every trial.
Be Humble / Proverbs 11:2
When pride comes, then comes shame;
But with the humble is wisdom.
Raging arrogance and presumptuous behavior hinders us from seeking the full wisdom of God. Pride assumes that it already knows the answers. The truth is that only God knows all the answers. We should humbly ask for guidance.
Can you think of a situation when you didn’t seek the Lord’s help before making a difficult decision? What was the outcome? Contrast that with a time when you humbly sought God and acted on His leading.
Do you underline Scripture (It’s okay to underline in your Bible) and/or write in the margins, take notes during sermons or Bible Study, or express your thoughts through journaling? If you don’t, why not try it during these next few months, and it will become a habit that will reap benefits.
I have some questions for you. If you were to die today would you be assured that you would go to heaven? If Jesus came back now would you go with Him?
Sometimes we question, not doubt, but question or wonder about basic things in the Christian faith. Questions like, "How can I be assured I am going to heaven?" "Can I believe what the Bible says?" "How do I deal with worry, doubt, and fear?" "How can I become more like Christ?" "Who am I in Christ?"
Do you ever feel like you and God have drifted apart and that the love and joy you once experienced with Him has faded? If you do, you're not alone. Most Christians feel like the experiences they have with God diminish over time and that they need another touch. But is that the way it should be?
I think a lot of Christians are taught that Christians are like leaky buckets: like a bucket full of holes, we must continually be “refilled”. God touches our lives and we become excited about it, but then—within a short period of time—we’re back to being just as empty and needing something special from the Lord. It’s an up and down ride.
How many have, or know of someone who has, experienced a spiritual high in some form or another and were all excited about the Lord, and then, after a period of time, it faded away? I’ve talked with many people who have, and they say something like: “I know this won’t last long. It never does. In a month or so I’ll be back to where I was—but I’m enjoying it now!”
Although this is what most people experience, it’s not what the Lord taught. He told us that we’re supposed to go “from glory to glory,” not from pit to pit (2 Cor. 3:15-18). We are not supposed to just struggle all the time. Our relationship with God can be on the up and up…not the ups and downs that most of us experience.
A daily walk with God can stop the up and down experiences we have. Yes, we will face hardship, problems, temptations etc., but we will be walking with the Lord and thus trust Him to help us through those rough times. We will also have some “extra” exciting times with the Lord: maybe a worship service, Bible Study, seminar, retreat, concert, some special event, etc. where we are touched by God is some special way. These blessings just encourage us to continue walking with God each day.
If you want to “hear” more, I will be preaching on this on September 23.
It’s quiet. It’s early. I’m on my way to the Y. The sky
is still dark with a hint of light. The world is still asleep. The day is
When I leave the Y, the day has arrived. It roars down the track with the rising of the sun. The stillness of the dawn is exchanged for the noise of the day. The calm of solitude is replaced by the hustle and bustle of humanity. The refuge of the early morning is invaded by decisions to be made and deadlines to be met. For the next twelve to sixteen hours people will be exposed to the day’s demands. It is now that I (and all people) must make a choice.
In Galatians 5:22-23 we have the fruit of the Spirit.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
As Christians, we have the fruit of the Spirit within us. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to permanently indwell those who believed, and thus we are free and empowered to choose. And so I choose, according to the fruit of the Spirit within me:
Love. No occasion justifies hatred; no injustice warrants bitterness. I choose love. Today I will love God and what God loves.
Joy. I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance. I will refuse the temptation to be cynical. I will refuse to see people as anything less than human beings, created by God. I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than an opportunity to see God.
Peace. I will have tranquility of mind, a composure, and a restfulness that is undisturbed by circumstances and situations. I will have the peace of God that is independent of conditions and environment; the peace which no sorrow, danger, suffering, or experience can take away.
Patience. I will overlook the inconveniences of the world. Instead of cursing the one who takes my place, I’ll invite Him to do so. Rather than complain that the wait is too long, I will thank God for a moment to pray. Instead of clinching my fist at new assignments, I will face them with joy and courage.
Kindness. I will be kind to all, whether rich or poor (and in between), for they may be alone or afraid. And kind to the unkind, for such is how God has treated me.
Goodness. I will go without a dollar before I take a dishonest one. I will be overlooked before I will boast. I will confess before I will accuse. I choose goodness.
Faithfulness. Today I will keep my promises. I will be faithful, authentic, and trustworthy.
Gentleness. Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice, may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.
Self-control. I am a spiritual being. After this body is dead, my spirit will soar. I refuse to let what will rot, rule the eternal. I will be drunk only by joy. I will be impassioned only by my faith. I will be influenced only by God. I will be taught only by Christ. I choose self-control.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. To these I commit my day. If I succeed, I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek His grace. And, at the end of the day, I can lie down in peace and sleep.
1 Corinthians 15:14 says, “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty (in vain) and your faith is also empty (in vain).” I encourage you to read the whole chapter...seriously, read it.
When I lived in Glencoe, MN, I lived across the street from the railroad tracks. If you’ve ever lived near a train track, you know how loud the train whistle can be. After a while you get used to the sound of the train. You have a vague awareness of trains going by, but the noise has faded into the background. Familiarity can lull you to sleep. The same is true when living by anything that has noise…it soon fades in the background until someone who is not accustomed to it brings it up. We become dull of hearing and seeing.
It’s the same way with the Scriptures and the themes of the Bible. I mentioned during Advent, that we can “fall asleep” and let the significance of the birth of Christ pass us by. Since this is the Lenten/Easter season, I will focus on the resurrection. Paul tells the church in Corinth “as of first importance” (v. 3) about the significance of the resurrection. He didn’t want them to be lulled asleep or become dull of hearing. Simply put, Paul tells them and us very clearly that if the resurrection didn’t happen as a real, physical event in history, Christianity is worthless. He says that if Christ has not been raised, preaching the gospel is useless, faith is futile, and those who believe are the most pitiful people. Scholars, whether Christian or not, agree that without the resurrection, there is no Christianity.
Jesus made claims about Himself, claims to Messiahship and divinity (i.e. John 8:58-59). Jesus predicted His bodily resurrection and pointed to it as the “sign of Jonah” (i.e. Matt. 12:39 and Luke 11:29). The reason Paul is so categorically clear regarding the importance of the resurrection is because everything about Jesus is substantiated in the resurrection event. C. S. Lewis basically said in Mere Christianity (55-56): Jesus was either an outright liar, a lunatic, or He was indeed Lord. We can be confident that Jesus wasn’t a sham or a madman. He is Lord.
Previously to C.S. Lewis two others "argued" the same thing.
In the mid-nineteenth century the Scottish preacher, John Duncan, formulated what he called a “trilemma.” In Colloquia Peripatetica (p. 109) he said: Christ either  deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or  He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or  He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.
In 1936, Watchman Nee made a similar argument in his book, Normal Christian Faith. A person who claims to be God must belong to one of three categories:
First, if he claims to be God and yet in fact is not, he has to be a madman or a lunatic.
Second, if he is neither God nor a lunatic, he has to be a liar, deceiving others by his lie.
Third, if he is neither of these, he must be God.
You can only choose one of the three possibilities.
If you do not believe that he is God, you have to consider him a madman.
If you cannot take him for either of the two, you have to take him for a liar.
There is no need for us to prove if Jesus of Nazareth is God or not. All we have to do is find out if He is a lunatic or a liar. If He is neither, He must be the Son of God.
As one person asked me, “Why do you think it can be so easy to lose sight of the profound richness of familiar passages?” Something to think about.
Lately it seems that the articles I’ve read, and discussions I’ve had with other pastors, seem to be on “Kingdom Focus vs Church Focus” in various contexts. Just today, for example, I came across this quote in relation to kids leaving church:
“From what I've found, families who had kids who didn't rebel tended to have a kingdom focus, not just a church focus.” - Rebecca Lindenbach
We keep wondering why our children don’t go to church anymore. But not just children, everyone. Only 28% of Rhode Islanders go to church regularly (CT -25, MA -22, ME -20, NH -20, VT -17 are lower) according to a Gallup poll taken in 2014. 53% of Rhode Islanders seldom or never go to church (CT -54, MA -59, ME -65, NH -63, VT -71) in that same poll. Perhaps the good news is that it has not lowered since a poll taken in 2006.
I’m at fault here as much as anyone else, although in the last two years our adult Sunday School Class, KIDS Church, and Skype Bible Study have focused, and are focusing, on Kingdom building now (although those attending may not realize it…lol).
We tend to focus on “how do we get people to come to church” instead of looking at how we can spread the gospel to all the world. In the past many (if not most) churches have focused on attending church in various ways…which is not bad in and of itself…but have forgotten our purpose. And that is to build God’s Kingdom. The primary focus is to further God’s kingdom on earth, and take it beyond the four walls of the church.
We often tend to focus our attention on the local church that we belong to and its activities. Although it may be fun, and a great experience, it may seem irrelevant in this global age where everything is a click away. The world is more accessible now than ever before.
If you look at the polls you will see that millennials go to church less than anyone (see PEW polls). Could it be that the focus of the church today doesn’t seem to mesh with millennials’ values?
This tweet by a millennial says it all. “If we were in the middle of the zombie apocalypse I swear my generation would start a Zombie Rights campaign.” It’s why many millennials are for gay marriage but are also against abortion. To millennials, it’s a justice issue, not a moral one: everyone should have the right to love, and everyone should have the right to life (taken from Rebecca Lindenbach).
Going to church means becoming equipped for the calling that God has for us outside the church walls. Christianity has a much wider reach than church on Sunday and Wednesday night (or whatever day). We are in a position to see God really move in the lives of people around us, and that means having a Kingdom focus of spreading the Gospel outside the church walls.
This is still being fleshed out, but like to share a little with you. As many of you know, I go to the gym Monday through Friday at 5:00 am, most Saturdays at 7:00 am, and once in a while on Sundays at 7:00 am (I’m not sure why they don’t open early on the weekends).
You can go to the gym every day and workout and it will make you stronger, tone you, and make you more flexible (if you are not going to bulk up). If you are going to the gym to lose weight you may be in for a rude awakening. Yes, you will lose initially, but, as my trainer has said, weight loss is 70% diet and only 30% workout (some say 80/20).
I’m a good example of that. I went from 305lbs to 205lbs and then gained 20lbs because I stopped watching how much I ate. I lost the 100lbs, not by drinking power shakes, taking supplements, etc. I lost it by not eating as much as I used to. When you go from eating up to 4000 calories a day to around 2000 you are bound to lose (even if you don’t work out). You can look up the average calorie intake for a man/woman on the internet. By the way, when you drop down to around 2000 calories a day (for a man), you do change what and how you eat just naturally.
Why am I sharing this? I got lazy…I stopped being disciplined…I got complacent thinking I could eat more. WRONG!
Don’t we do that in our spiritual lives? Don’t we get lazy? We are gun ho for a bit and we feel the power of God working in our lives and we think “we arrived” and become complacent or undisciplined and we gain 20lbs. We don’t go to church as often, we don’t go to Bible Study or prayer. We don’t get as involved. We don’t see the power of God working as much, and we wonder why. We are not as happy, we let things bother us that didn’t before. There are many things that happen, most of them subtle. I’m not saying that we sin (and, yes, we are more susceptible to sin), but we do lose the joy and power and even a sound mind (self-discipline) (2 Timothy 1:7).
2 Timothy 1:7
ou gar edwken hmin o Qeoj pneuma deiliaj alla dunamewj kai agaphj kai swfronismou.
7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. NIV (the NIV/NASB actually translate this passage closest to the Greek)
My problem wasn’t the working out, it was the thought that I made it, and became undisciplined in how much I was eating.
I know many factors weigh in on the equation. That is why my trainer insists on a wholistic approach. If we are “lacking” in one area…it effects/affects the rest. Same with our spiritual lives. If we don’t feel well, or are hurting, or angry, etc. it does effect/affect everything else. That is where discipline comes in.
Paul says he “buffets” (disciplines, beats) his body so he doesn’t become disqualified. In Hebrews it says don’t forsake the assembling of ourselves together. When we become undisciplined we become more “fleshly” and it’s easy to gain that 20lbs. Read the following as Paul explains the three types of people: natural, spiritual, and carnal (fleshly). We fall in one of these categories. Read also the Hebrews passage.
1 Corinthians 2:14-3:3
14 But a natural man does not accept the
things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot
understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.
16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.
1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.
2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able,
3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?
11 About this we have much to say, and
it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,
13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.
14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Peter says it another way (but doesn’t contradict the above):
1 Peter 2:2 (NASB)
2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation…
Peter ends his letters with this...in which we should heed.
2 Peter 3:18 (NASB)
18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
I've heard this a few times and even thought (too embarrassed to say aloud?) it myself. Then I read a blurb by Anne Graham Gotz where she said that while prayers do work, sometimes the “pray-ers” don’t.
Heavy. But is it true? I think sometimes we give up on prayer because we don’t see an answer. We throw out prayer with the wash. We wonder why we don’t see the power of God in our lives. Is it because we have become too complacent and compromising? We say we believe God’s Word, and we may even say, “Praise God” when we read a passage, but do we act on it?
Anne Gotz says this about 2 Chronicles 7:14, “Could it be that while we eagerly claim the promise of God hearing our prayer and forgiving our sin and healing our land, we have given little attention to the condition attached to it? And what is the condition? We must humble ourselves. Pray. Seek God’s face. And turn from our wicked ways.”
I think that may be why we don’t like reading books by, listening to, or watching videos by, people like Jennie Allen, Mark Batterson, David Butts, Francis Chan, Anne Graham Gotz, J.D. Grear, Kyle Idleman, John Ortberg, Philip Yancey, to name a few, because they convict us of our complacency. We may even stop reading the Bible because we read passages like 2 Chronicles 7:14 and are convicted.
Anne Graham Gotz says more about this in her book, “The Daniel Prayer”.