Good morning. Today is Wednesday, the second of March, 2022, in the season of Lent.
May the peace of Christ be with you today!
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Lent is the forty-day season leading up to the celebration of Easter, or, as I prefer to call it, Resurrection Sunday. The Fat Tuesday parties are over, the revelry is complete. Today, the fasts begin. Many people will give up meat for Lent. I understand that is a common practice, especially among Catholics.
If you recall yesterday’s blog, I discussed a few things I might be looking at “giving up” for Lent. The thing is, I don’t believe it to be a coincidence that I read the selection on fasting that I read yesterday, of all days. And while I realize that the purpose of that specific selection was not necessarily driven by the idea of being critical, it certainly struck home for me.
This year, for Lent (which I do not always technically “observe”), I have two goals in mind. One is physical. I am giving up candy for Lent. Laugh or chuckle if you want, but candy has been a serious downfall for me, in recent weeks. M&Ms, Heath bars, Hershey “Nuggets,” and other forms of chocolate, mainly. Those will be eliminated from my diet for at least forty days.
I also have a spiritual or mental goal. I plan to fast from being critical for at least forty days. That’s right. I’m going to try to not criticize anything or anybody for at least forty days. If you know me, you know that the only way I can accomplish this is by the power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t promise that I won’t have any critical thoughts, mind you. Sometimes, those thoughts can’t be prevented. However, as Dallas Willard reminds us, we humans have a unique ability. We are the only creatures on the planet who have the ability to control what we allow our minds to dwell on. So that means that, when a critical thought pops into my brain (and I say “when” not “if”), it will be my duty to stop it in its tracks, “nip it in the bud,” as it were.
We got our new bed, yesterday, and got it assembled before I went to work at the library. It’s very nice, and works just like S’s bed and the one we got for Mama’s room (I wonder . . . will we still call it R’s room?). Head and feet raise and lower, and it has vibrator massages on both ends. Plus each side has four USB ports for device charging! I didn’t sleep real great, last night, sadly, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the new bed. Hopefully, tonight will be better.
We also made the decision, yesterday, after conversing with the A/C tech, to go ahead and replace our systems. We will be getting a 5-ton A/C unit that provides, I believe, 18 seer (I have no idea what that means), and is variable speed instead of single speed. That means it should be more efficient and save us somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-35% on our electricity in the summertime. The work will be done next Wednesday. Total cost for the whole shebang is roughly $12,500. Yikes.
Before I head into today’s devotional, I want to share an article by one of my long-time favorite singer/songwriters, Carolyn Arends. I remember her from years ago, when she broke into the CCM arena after having been a staff songwriter for a label. She had a number of successful albums and singles and then kind of faded (or so I thought) for a bit. Or maybe I just lost track, I don’t know. She resurfaced a decade or so ago as a major player in one of my favorite Christian organizations, Renovare. And by “major player,” I mean leader. I’m not talking about musically, I’m talking spiritually. And Carolyn has really shined (shone?) in this role. Well, what I want to share, today, is a recent article she wrote about Ash Wednesday. It’s called “I Was An Ash Wednesday Rookie.” It really resonates with me because our backgrounds are similar, at least church-wise.
I probably won’t be attending an Ash Wednesday service today. I wish I could, but it’s my Wednesday to work at the Hurst Public Library (circulation desk), and we don’t leave the library until 6:15. All of the services I can find start at 6:30, and I don’t think I could make it in time. Maybe next year, because I would really like to attend one, someday.
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS
"Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen." (Collect for Ash Wednesday, The Book of Common Prayer)
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. (John 20:21-22 ESV)
Today I am grateful:
1. for the season of Lent, as we prepare for Resurrection Sunday 2. for the many saints in my life that have inspired me and brought me to the spiritual place I am today 3. for the life and peace that Jesus breathes into us 4. for the reminder that I am dust 5. that life doesn't end here
'Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?' Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, 'Here I am.' (Isaiah 58:3-9 ESV)
This is the scripture passage that is brought forth in Spiritual Classics, after presenting the selection by Catherine Marshall that I summarized yesterday. The people question the fact that they fast, but it seems to get no results. God answers by questioning the validity of their fast.
The purpose of the reading, again, was not so much to highlight the critical nature (although that is what spoke so loudly to me), but to center on the discipline of fasting. And what better time to arrive at this place than the beginning of the Lenten season?
And, as I read the passage from Isaiah, one of my initial reactions tends to lean toward being critical toward the church of today, but I am stopping those thoughts and not going there. Rather, I will focus on what I can do to accomplish this “fast” of which the Lord speaks. What can I do to help loose the bonds of wickedness, to break every chain, and free the oppressed? What can I do to share my bread with the hungry and my home with the homeless (there’s a scary thought, right there), and to cover the naked? The passage indicates that, when we are successfully doing these things, our cries will be heard.
As the week progresses, there will be questions and suggested activities, and a final thought from one of the writers of the book.
(From Spiritual Classics, by Richard J Foster and Emilie Griffin)
There is a common misconception that our “religion” is a “private matter.” And while much of what goes on in “religion” concerns matters of the heart, it cannot help but spill out into real life.
“Every movement we make in response to God has a ripple effect, touching family, neighbors, friends, community. Belief in God alters our language. Love of God affects our relationships. Hope in God enters into our work. Also their opposites – unbelief, indifference, and despair. None of these movements and responses, beliefs and prayers, gestures and searches, can be confined to the soul. They spill out and make history. If they don’t, they are under suspicion of being fantasies at best, hypocrisies at worst.” ~ Eugene H. Peterson
The book of Philemon is a perfect picture of the truth of this. One of the single chapter books of the New Testament, it involves a letter from Paul to a slave owner named Philemon, who is a brother in Christ. It turns out Paul has come in contact with a runaway slave of Philemon’s, named Onesimus, who has, apparently because of Paul’s ministry, also become a Christian! As Paul writes to Philemon, it is apparent that this relationship between Philemon and Onesimus has to change, because they are now brothers in Christ. And Paul is sending Onesimus back to him, with instructions on how this has to change!
It is in situations like this that Christianity is proved to be real or, as Peterson said, “fantasies . . . hypocrisies.”
Does our belief in Christ spill out into our lives? It is my belief that the separation of “sacred” and “secular” is a myth. I cannot compartmentalize my life. If I can be “Christian” on Sunday, at “church,” but can act like a heathen at work, or treat my family terribly at home, my “Christianity” is not real.
(From Symphony of Salvation, by Eugene H. Peterson)
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. (Psalms 51:1-6 NIV)
The prayer word for today is “life.” What a powerful word, full of meaning!
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
(James 4:14 NIV)
“Life” is fragile. As we have observed, so many times in our past, a loved one is “here today, gone tomorrow.” We are described, in Scripture, as a breath, a mist, as grass, that is here one minute and burned in the fire the next.
We don’t really notice this, as children. When we are children, life is forever, and the main goal is fun. As young adults, we think ourselves indestructible. But as we grow older, the frailty becomes reality. Death is imminent. We think about it more.
May God help us to treasure this thing called “life.” The good news is that it doesn’t end here. But the time here is, by comparison, short, just a breath, a wisp of smoke.
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Father, what beautiful reminders, this morning, of the beauty of life with You! Yes, I am dust, and to dust shall I return, assuming Jesus does not return before my physical life on this planet ends. But “life” as we know, does not end at that point. We will carry on, in some form which we know not, for eternity, in our lives with You.
I pray for all who are embarking on a Lenten journey today. As we “celebrate” Ash Wednesday, whether we get cross-shaped smudges of ash on our foreheads or not, may we remember the truth that we are only dust. Help us all to accomplish whatever “fast” You have put on our hearts today. For me, I ask that You strengthen me, more for the elimination of judgment and criticism than candy, although I desire success in both realms. But, to me, the criticism is the more important aspect. Help me to “take captive” those thoughts as soon as they enter my brain, and not to entertain them, and especially not to let them escape through my mouth or fingertips.
So, Lord, I just realized that I’m focusing on what goes in my mouth and what comes out my mouth. That’s rather ironic.
I also pray that my faith always works itself out in reality, and is not something hidden, that no one else can see. It must be, in order to be authentic. It is not private, and I cannot separate “sacred” and “secular.” My life is in You. All of it, every aspect of it. Christ must be all and in all.
Glory to You, through the Son and by the Spirit!
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
Grace and peace, friends.