Up from the Ashes

Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday," has been going on since early January, but actually culminates today. This is the last day to indulge in fatty foods and excessive celebration before the austerity of Lent begins--tomorrow.

I have been to New Orleans many, many times over the years (while serving on the board of trustees for our seminary there), but never during this raucous festival. My lifestyle is much too staid for all the parades and floats, alcohol and beads, that are involved. I have observed the massive cleanup that happens on the streets afterwards, though. It is quite a party!
 Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. That time when Christians around the world--Roman Catholic and, increasingly, believers from other denominations, too--begin to humble themselves, repent, fast, and discipline themselves in preparation for Easter. It is the official beginning of Lent (from an old English word meaning “spring season")--a period of forty days.

The fasting commemorates Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). The smudge of ashes on the forehead, in the shape of a cross, is a symbol of repentance and a very public profession of faith in Jesus.

You will see people with the mark everywhere you go, and you can give them a knowing nod. You may choose to have the ashes, too, and you will have something in common with them. Maybe a conversation or witness for Christ could come from it--you never know.
 We are going to have two services tomorrow morning-- one at 7:30 am and the other at 12:00 pm, when we will focus on the LORD's call for us to repent and more closely follow Him. We will sing, read scripture, pray, and hear a brief message. There will be ashes for those who wish to receive them, but you do not have to do that in order to get something meaningful. Each service will last 30 minutes, so come on your way to work or school, or during your lunch break. Invite your friends to join you.

Tomorrow night we will begin six weeks of special Lenten services at 6:15 pm, entitled Pathway of Passion, each week lead by a different person. Tomorrow night Larry Houk will discuss Passover and its relationship to the LORD's Supper that Jesus instituted--and then I will lead us to share the bread and the cup together. I hope that you will plan to come each week that you can. I know that these services are going to make your ultimate celebration of Easter much richer.

However you choose to spend these next forty days, make it a significant time of soul-searching and seeking after a closer walk with Jesus. The fasting that some will do, and the "giving up something for Lent" that others will, is a way of focusing on God and not our appetites. Any way you choose to discipline yourself can accomplish the same thing. Perhaps limiting your time on social media would constitute more of a challenge than merely giving up chocolate.

Consider journaling your experience. Do more devotional reading and reflect on what you read. Let it become a stretch of days where you make great strides toward spiritual maturity.

This could end up being your best experience of Easter and the resurrection-- ever.

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