Ash Wednesday

Genesis 18:27 – Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.

As I ran on the rail trail between Chester and Monroe, a group of students from a local high school, who apparently comprise their track team, ran the other way by me. I looked up to see ashes on some of their foreheads. Smears of black ash seemed like something that most people would want to wash off and forget. It looked embarrassing. It was ugly. Funny how something ugly can be beautiful.

Let me admit that these teenaged boys with their smudged foreheads inspired hope in me as I passed them. Somehow, despite all societal trends, they remain connected to Christian tradition. Christian tradition is the only thing that assures us that there will be any kind of Christian future. It begins with the Bible and tells us who we are as believers. If we cut it off in order to fit into contemporary culture, we cut off our identity.  The Holy Spirit wasn’t invented in the 20th century. Relevancy is a relative concept. Who knew that dark smudges worn all day by some teenagers could say so much? Well, whenever an imperfect tradition intends to be faithful to Scripture and involve Jesus Christ, it lives and promotes life spiritually in all of us.

I pray for all who read this that these days between Ash Wednesday 2018 and Easter Sunday 2018 would be days of repentance, renewal, and rejoicing. It matters. We all need our faith to be restarted and refreshed by the Holy Spirit. He has been filling and tending to Christ’s church from the beginning.

Ashes remind us of the incomparable grace and mercy of God in Christ.

 

Echoes of The National Prayer Breakfast

2 Chronicles 7:14
…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (ESV)

  • This Sunday I talked about the honor of being invited to and attending the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC (with Pastors Stewart and Rodriguez) last week as an illustration for my sermon on John 15:18-16:4a. You can listen to this at www.goodwillchurch.org.
  • I still think the line in the sermon that captures the category-busting experience of the National Prayer Breakfast for me is the one that recalls when I was asked, “Do you have your Jesus book?”
  • The “Jesus” book is a small, beautiful, hardcover book that contains the four Gospels and the Book of Acts. That’s all. The “Jesus” book contains no other content, not even a copyright notice. I had to ask to learn that the Bible text is from the J.B. Philips translation (1958). Yes, I now have my “Jesus” book. So did every person in attendance. Many were Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or non-religious, from what I could see. All took their new “Jesus” books with them.
  • No President of the United States has missed or failed to bring his best to the National Prayer Breakfast for each of the 66 years we’ve had it. President Trump was no exception. Every president prior, from Eisenhower to Obama, has his most memorable comments recorded in the booklet we were handed at our tables.
  • Per the published material they put on our plates with our “Jesus” books, the National Prayer Breakfast is centered on “the Spirit of Jesus of Nazareth.”
  • The “fellowship” – the “friends” behind this huge operation that hosts 3,500 invited guests from 140-160 countries at the Hilton in Washington – world and religious leaders from all over the globe – they want us to befriend people and share Jesus with them. I had what felt like divine appointments with many insiders of this group. They were focused on personally encouraging me to learn from them and to be encouraged. “Befriend and share Jesus with the leaders you can reach.” That’s it. Amazing, eh? Very convicting. I spoke with someone else who went this year. We agreed that this may lead us to do things that we would not otherwise choose to do. The real risk is not in being bold for Christ. The real risk comes from not being bold for Him. I am risk-averse, so this means it’s time to ante up for Jesus of Nazareth. The National Prayer Breakfast taught me that I can simply contact a leader I might see as far over me in the government or the military and offer my time, friendship, and prayer. There is no end to the stories of how this approach changes the lives of all involved! (Yikes!)
  • I have to think about the cynicism I brought to the event. I expected a heavy dose of ecumenism. I did not expect what we all got: a potent, unapologetic, authentic, gracious witness to Jesus Christ. “Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief.”
  • Seeing Scotty and Tiffany Smiley – who I’ve hosted or enjoyed someone else hosting in our area 3 different times in the last years – and seeing Matthew West – who will be at Goodwill this July… well, this made me think about how small God makes our world. I am just this guy who said “yes” to Him a while ago and He – God – has gone so far overboard in blessing me and connecting me. I will not serve before obscure men, right? Amen! God is crazy like this. He doesn’t know when to stop.
  • If you’re reading this, how can you question that Jesus is seeking to bless you AND use you in His purposes for this world? He is calling you. He will equip you. He is already working behind the curtain. He will not be denied. People all over the world want to hear about Him… and only Him. “If my people… pray.” 
  • We ought to continue to pray for Congressman Steve Scalise and his continued healing from being shot. We ought to pray for his friendship with Congressman Cedric Richmond too. It’s all about our relationships. America is a nation of relationships, beginning with our relationship with God through Jesus of Nazareth. Friendship is the key to life. It is no small thing that Jesus said He no longer calls us servants, but friends.
  • May God richly encourage and bless you this week!

Dear Winter: We get it. Thanks.

Mark 13:18 – Pray that it may not happen in winter.

Maybe it’s part of the aging process, but winter seems colder this year. And darker too. In fact, I wouldn’t mind if the Groundhog was embarrassed and in under six weeks we were all complaining about the heat. “Oh, the heat. I just can’t take it. Turn up the AC.”

The Gospels give us a glimpse into the struggles of the end of time. It’s strange to me that Jesus teaches us to pray that our fleeing to the mountains would not occur during winter. Why would our prayers have any effect on the weather then? They don’t seem to now, do they? And how on earth would they influence the timing of events at the end of time? I know, it’s probably just a manner of expression that Jesus is using here and not something offered to build a doctrine of prayer on. I get it. But I also really get the point that doing anything in the winter is harder, especially running for your life on account of the apocalypse.

It’s touching that Jesus, as He heads to the cross, is worried about the details of our physical experience in life and on earth. You can see His humanity here, as well as His compassion. It’s real. He feels it for mothers with babies and all the rest of us. Remember this as you endure the wind chilling you to the bone as you move from heated homes and buildings to heated cars and back.

It’s always counterintuitive to picture Jesus caring like this. Really? Who are we? He should be angry with us, right? He has every right to be. The cold can remind us of what we deserve due to our sins, but instead, with a little Scripture in front of us, because of what Jesus did for us on the Cross, the cold can also remind us that winter is temporary and will soon be eclipsed by more than the warmth of summer. Someday the warmth of Heaven will overtake us. Someday soon. And only because of Jesus.

Let me just write the word “summer” here a few more times. It looks so good on the page.

Summer…