Growing up I didn’t know anything about Lent. I only knew Lent as a strange “Catholic” practice. I’ve gained a broader picture of the Body of Christ through the study of Church history and I’ve been able to experience a deeper expression of prayer and worship as a result. I want to help you do the same. Most Protestants think of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season as a “Catholic thing” while, in reality it was part of the early church’s consistent pattern of worship. Our earliest known reference is that of Ireneus (who died in 202 A.D.). What I’ve sought to do is strip the Lenten season of anything that is not biblical but maintain a simple and clear focus of prayer, repentance, and personal sacrifice. I’ve heard many sermons on Christ’s instructions to pray when He says, “When you pray…” pray like this… But He also says, “When you fast…” fast like this… He didn’t say “if” you fast, but “when”. Jesus expected His followers to pray, and at times, fast as a regular part of our spiritual pattern of worship. Could it be that we (in the U.S. in particular) could learn a few things about giving up so much of what we want and dying to our selfish needs for more? I am certain that prayer and fasting is greatly needed among believers- particularly in the affluent West.
What many have written off as “weird” (ashes on the forehead, giving up certain foods, etc.) I’ve sought to recapture in its purest biblical sense. It is true that Ash Wednesday or “Lent” are not in the Bible (of course, neither are Christmas Eve services, Good Friday services, Advent, and so much of what others of us would call “normal”). You don’t see “Easter Sunday” in the Bible either (because every Sunday is Easter Sunday- or better, Resurrection Sunday for the believer.
“Lent” may not be in the Bible but focused seasons of sacrifice, confession, and repentance clearly are. In the church I grew up in we rushed to Easter Sunday without any preparation of the heart before God. I’ve learned much from the larger Body of Christ as it relates to the spiritual disciplines solitude, prayer, and fasting. “Lent” of comes from the Middle English word “Lenten” which means “Spring”. The Lenten or Easter Season is a focused time of confession and repentance from “Ash Wednesday” to Easter Sunday. Forty Days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday (minus the Sundays leading up to Easter- because the early believers would not fast on Sundays). Later many would go from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday (forty days later). Maundy comes from “mandatum”, meaning “mandate” or “command”. Jesus said, “A new commandment” (mandatum nuevum) I give to you.” So the Lenten season is a period of focused prayer and fasting (with a focus on confession, sacrifice, and repentance). Why forty Days? Forty days shows up throughout the Bible. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus (Luke 4:1-2) all fasted for forty days.
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19
The ashes are to remind you of your mortality and of the need to repent of sin in your life. It was common for Jews and early believers to mourn the loss of a loved one with “sackcloth and ashes”. Ashes were also a sign of brokenness and repentance of sin. Confession of sin is a private thing between you and God. It is not something to be paraded around and seen by everyone but a private moment between you and your Savior.
Fasting is the act of the will through which the follower of Jesus puts forth spiritual control over the flesh (through sacrifice- i.e. not eating, or some other form of self-denial) with a view to a more personal and powerful experience with God in prayer. Fasting involves giving up but is much more about receiving. You give up in order to receive. You die in order to live.
Types of fasts:
- Total fast (be careful and receive guidance)
- Water only Prepare your body for it. Hunger pangs will go away- first 2 days hardest.
- Liquid only Juices- not milkshakes! (When you don’t eat, more time for prayer)
- Eliminate certain foods No deserts, no caffeine, no junk food- “Daniel fast”- healthy
- Media fast NO television, NO movies, NO paper, NO internet, NO video games, etc.
- Multiple possibilities Be creative and specific-but a sacrifice- must cost you something.
During a fast, when your earthly desires kick in, you turn to the Lord and you are reminded that He is more than enough to meet your every need. It is a wonderful way to be drawn to the Lord and to overcome the desires of the flesh in many areas of your life.
“If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.” Psalm 66:18-19 What is David saying here? I cannot harbor unconfessed sin or unresolved sin in my life. Any Christian who desires to fully serve God and follow Him must attack sin from all fronts. We cannot hold on to sin but release it and the first step is to confess it- to God first and then, to others.
“For me, to live is Christ and die is gain.” Philippians 1:21
To be alive to Christ and to live for Him means I must die to myself, my needs, my wants- continually. “In the body” is where dying of Jesus is seen through my life and revealed to others. It is, at the same time, the place where this life (the resurrection life) of Jesus is seen. In the same passage he says, “so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in my body.” My life then becomes a presentation of a Story- the Story of the passion of Christ. I die to myself in order to reveal His life in my. You see, you are called not only to tell the story of the Passion, but to LIVE it, experience it. How? By dying to self.
But the language used by Paul is a continual dying- the process of dying- you are continually dying. To remind you of your mortality- your body is dying and to get you focused and busy on the eternal that does not die. You see, death for Jesus was not the end- He lives. So, how can we position ourselves to move to this dying of self? How can I be touched by God to go to deeper levels? By confessing my sin to Him, by showing Him that He is all I want- all I need. Fasting is that spiritual discipline that helps us live that out in unique ways. It’s why Jesus says, “When you fast…” (Matthew 6:16)- it was an expected practice of the believer. It’s a way to deny yourself of earthly things in order to focus on heavenly things.
“My food” Jesus said, “is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.” John 4:34 During a fast He is your food. The will of God becomes your sustenance.
May you walk to the cross with the Lord Jesus this Easter season as never before.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)
On the 15th of this month, 83 years ago, Michael Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia. His name was later changed to Martin, the son and grandson of Baptist pastors. He himself served as co-pastor with his father at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta while he became the central figure in the civil rights movement in the United States.
On August 28th, 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech that would shake a nation and the world (and as a pastor/preacher- one who traffics constantly in words- I believe this is one of the finest speeches/sermons ever preached). Dr. King was so articulated, so clear, so picturesque in his words, but what drove his message home was his passion- and even more, I believe, a divine anointing upon his life. Consider the fact that he was only 34 years old.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream and it was a dream aligned with God’s dream for a better world. Let his words resonate in your heart again:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal….’I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”
“…One day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
In April of 1968, Dr. King went to Memphis, TN in support of mistreated black sanitation workers. On April 4th he stood with a friend outside his hotel room on the second floor balcony. A shot rang out and an assassin’s bullet hit Dr. King and the civil rights leader was dead at the age of 39. To get deeper into the heart of this man we need only listen to his final words preached the night before he died. Listen, in light of what would happen the next day: “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. (Amen.) But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Martin Luther King had a life mission. His one life made a difference. Let me ask you, do you think that only certain people have a mission in life? That maybe there are only a few people who really have a God-given dream? Or could it be that every single one of us has been given a dream- by God- to serve His eternal Kingdom purposes while we’re here on this earth?
Throughout this month let’s allow the life and the words of Martin Luther King Jr.(and even more so, the words of our Lord Jesus) to inspire us to dream as well. Each of us has a God-given dream that He’s calling us to live. And our God-given dream has the potential to change our world. Your dream may or may not find its way on the national or international stage (it may!) but your God-given dream is unique to you and given to you to fulfill your life’s purpose.
So, let me ask you: What do you dream about?
Questions to Ponder this Month:
* What is your dream for life?
* What is the vision/calling (or God-given picture) of your life?
* If you had unlimited resources (of time, money, energy, people) what would you want to accomplish with the rest of your life?
* What do you love to do more than anything else? What makes you feel fully alive? Why?
* What do hate the most? What makes you angry? Why?
* What do you do best? What are your best gifts? (You’ve heard others tell you this).
* What is God’s unique mission for your life?
How will you fulfill this mission- starting today?
On New Year’s Eve, you may have heard Cee Lo Green’s rendition of John Lennon’s, “Imagine” (which apparently has become a tradition just prior to the ball being dropped at Times Square). But this year, instead of listening Lennon’s version of the song, they had Cee Lo sing it. He created a big stir by changing the words- instead of singing, “imagine no religion too”, he sang, “and all religions true”. People debate and ask the question- is there really only one way to God? The classic presentation of this argument ends up with the idea that “all roads lead to heaven”, “all paths lead to the same God”.
But is this true? I’ve changed the way I approach this question. The truth is (and read carefully) there are many roads to God- all roads lead to God but there is ONLY ONE WAY to eternal life with Him- there’s only ONE Way to LIFE and it is through Jesus Christ.
It is true that everyone will end up before God.
“Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” Hebrews 9:27
Though we may get through different paths, everyone will stand before God some day. But the idea that all religions are true is not even logical, simply because not all religions teach the same thing- by a long shot. In fact, in many ways, Christianity cannot even be compared to other religions. It is the anti-religion- it’s not a religion (that is, a way to achieve some standing before God through good works, following a certain set of moralistic standards, or follow set of rules). That’s not Christianity. Jesus taught us that we could never achieve God’s approval apart from His grace. If this were not true there would be no reason for the cross- which stands at the center of our faith.
No, all religions DO NOT teach the same thing and not all roads lead to a right relationship with God. And you don’t even have to go to the Bible to see this. Simple Aristotelian logic would say that two contradictory truths cannot be equally valid. It’s “The Law of Non-Contradiction”. This is a basic, fundamental Law of Logic. It states that two contradictory statements cannot both be true at the same time; one is true and one is false. Formulaically, it’s presented as, “A equals B and A does not equal B are mutually exclusive statements”. Now, every child knows this, but in America we have become so open-minded our brains have fallen out.
Some people say, “Well, Christianity is so exclusive. How can someone be so prideful as to think that ONE religion has all truth? I’ve talked to people who say, “My approach is to choose the best from all religions. That’s a better way to come to truth.” Really? Let me ask you then, “How do you determine what to chose from each religion that you’re going to then put together as your chosen collective religion?” YOU are going to choose? You’ve just made yourself your own God! You have just formed the religion of YOU; and you are, in the end, worshipping yourself. You have the final word on all things. And think about this: Isn’t it more logical to believe that ONE religion would have the truth within itself? A collective, united, comprehensive and cohesive body of truth- within one religion makes a lot more sense (again, if we want to bring logic into the equation). But alas, logic doesn’t seem to be in the mix when it comes to spiritual conversations these days. Let’s bring it back into the conversation.
All roads lead to God and then judgment based on what we have done with Jesus.
- 2 Corinthians 5:21
- 2 Timothy 1
- Acts 6
- Andrew Peterson
- Ash Wednesday
- Brit Hume
- cause and effect
- civil rights
- core vs. non-core
- daily walk
- Fox News
- free in Christ
- Garden of Gethsemane
- Good Friday
- greater things
- Holy Spirit
- intelligent design
- John 14
- John Mark McMillan
- leading change
- Les Miserables
- Live Forgiven
- Luke 12
- Luke 2
- Martin Luther King
- Matthew 20:1-16
- moral argument
- My story
- New Year
- order and design
- pastoral leadership
- retrograde motion
- Sand art
- Serving others
- star of Bethlehem
- Tiger Woods
- Tower of Babel
- transitional leadership
- Wise Men