Lenten Expectations

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Greetings my siblings in Christ! Though it seems we just put the Christmas decorations away, March 2nd is Ash Wednesday and just like that, another season of Lent is upon us.

Lent has traditionally been a time when followers of Christ prepare themselves, both physically and spiritually, for the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord on Easter Sunday.

Some will give up certain foods over the next six weeks. Others might desire to pray more and perhaps read from the Scriptures each day. These and many other ways can help us draw closer to God and if they do, I say “Yes and amen” to them!

But I would ask, “What are your actual expectations for the Lenten season?” I hope for me and for you that we are not simply doing the same things we have done in the past without giving them much thought. We seemingly get out of Lent exactly what we put into it, making it easy to set the bar low with regard to our expectations.

I have a tendency to do this. I might tell myself this is a defense against getting disappointed, but it is a shallow approach to things, especially in things related to God.

As we journey through Lent together this year, I ask you to consider Simon of Cyrene as someone who had their expectations jarred by an encounter with God.  We don’t know much about him other than what the gospel tells us: As they led Jesus away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. (Luke 23:26 NRSV)

We can infer from the text that Simon was coming to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. No doubt this was a journey he had taken year after year. If he shared our common tendency to expect the usual, we can assume what a shock it was to be thrust into the Passion of the Lord. In other words, was he really expecting an encounter with God, or was he going through the familiar motions of tradition? Where do we land when we apply this thought to ourselves?

My hope and prayer for all of us is that we continue to raise the bar of expectation: God is big enough to handle it! And not only that God would do something extraordinary, but maybe more so that God be revealed to each of us in new ways in the ‘usualness’ of our lives. May we use this Lenten season to help us draw nearer to God and as we do, that our expectations are raised to higher levels.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Ash Wednesday: What and Why

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(image courtesy of the Cincinnati Inquirer)

(This blog was first published in March 2019)

Many of my dear sisters and brothers in Christ will be receiving ashes on their foreheads today.  As a non-denominational pastor, I’d like to share a few thoughts about Ash Wednesday means to me. 

I was born to Roman Catholic parents.  They faithfully went to Mass each Sunday, dragging my brother and me along with them.  They also hit all the Holy Days of Obligation with us in tow.  That meant that we got ashes on our foreheads every year at the beginning of Lent.  At the time, all I cared about was that this was bringing us closer to Easter and a basket filled with yummy treats.

As I got a little older, I listened to the readings at these gatherings, again without any real impact on my life.  As soon as I was old enough to decide whether I wanted to continue down my parent’s path of religious belief, I opted out.

Many years later life-changing things happened to me, and I found myself back in a church.  This time it was Lutheran.  These good folks also had a special midweek gathering at the beginning of the Lenten season where they, too, had ashes put on their foreheads.

By this time, thankfully, I knew more about the reasons behind this, which gave me a better appreciation of the symbolism.  My faith journey continued and my family and I landed in a non-denominational church.  I was, and am, still deeply moved by this approach.  When church life here is lived in the proper light, this church answers to God and not the traditions of men.  Therefore, I found no Ash Wednesday celebrations among these good people.

More time has passed, and I am now an ordained pastor of a non-denominational ministry.  What may be surprising to some is that I will be assisting at an Ash Wednesday service at a Lutheran Church this evening.  How did this come about, you might be asking?

My wife and I have been blessed to become friends with the Pastor of the local Lutheran Church.  She is a dynamic person of God, whose devotion to the Word, to prayer, and to others is inspiring.  We met at an ecumenical gathering of local pastors who get together every Saturday morning at 7 to pray for revival in our area.

Pastor Wheatley has invited Betsy and me to participate at this evening’s service at her church: Betsy will lead us in song and I will help distribute ashes.  This is what got me thinking about this topic today.  Why me?  And why ashes?

Non-denominational or not, I have concluded that the receiving of ashes on this day is a very good thing to do.  The ashes themselves symbolize three things: our sinfulness, our mortality, and the hope we have in God through the finished work of Jesus Christ.

The first two of these of go together; the bible teaches (and my life proves) that all people are hopelessly lost in sin.  Only God, in His mercy, can save us from eternal doom.  The ashes remind me of this fact today.  They also serve to refresh my memory about my own mortality; that no matter how good I feel physically today, at age 59, I am still much closer to the end of my natural life than I am to its beginning.  When this sobering thought is taken with the first point made, I am ever so glad for the third one!

The ashes, placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross, are a visual reminder of the reality of the love of God for us all.  Jesus, God’s Son, chose to die an awful death on a cross in order that sinners (that’s all of us) could be saved.  Peter expressed it this way: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

I can’t save myself, and no other human can do it for me either.  Only faith in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ can.  The ashes on my forehead remind me of this awesome truth again today.  I’ll gladly hand them out and humbly receive them.  The only title I bear today is follower of Christ, for it is the only one that truly matters.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

A blog from the future, dated 2525

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Guest contributors: Zagar and Evans (not really, but some of you will get the reference)

(This entry has been translated from binary code to English)

A historic find of some significance was uncovered recently.  In what was once referred to as the United States of America, a strange book was found beneath tons of plastic bags and other trash.  This book, ironically persevered in plastic, had the words Holy Bible emblazoned on the front cover.  The find was in remarkably good condition given its age.  The non-human excavators surmise that it hadn’t been opened even before finding its way to the bottom of the trash heap.

Professors of ancient language and history have busied themselves studying the relic.  Language experts have determined it is written in a forgotten language called English.  Though the study of the original language is important, what has the Rabbit Ruling Class most concerned is what is recorded in the last third of the book.

The historians have pieced together a most remarkable tale of a deity taking human form to live among them.  Further study has revealed that this was supposed to be part of a major plan to bring salvation to humankind as the person/god was to die for something called ‘forgiveness of sins.’ This unbelievable plan was celebrated yearly in an event called Easter, from which many now think comes the origin of the Sect of the Blessed Bunny.  In any event, this so-called Easter season traditionally started on what was called Ash Wednesday.

In the considered opinion of Zagar and Evans, these long-forgotten words will hold no meaning to our advanced culture, for apparently they had little impact on those it was originally intended for.

We give great thanks to the Ruling Rabbit in the Great Hutch in the Sky that these confusing ideas died with that long-ago culture.  One can only imagine the chaos that would ensue if this crazy story gained a foothold today.  If it did, untold millions might have to forego their quota of chocolate (shaped like the Ruling Rabbit, of course).  We shudder to think what would happen to the millions whose livelihood depends on chocolate production should our spring-time celebration of the Holy Hare be interrupted.

Fear not, you who happily hop along the bunny trail, our greatest minds agree that this notion of a God dying to save others will remain buried in the trash heap.  It is truly too crazy to believe.  And even if it were true, chocolate is so much sweeter.

Regards,

Zagar and Evans

A little satire to start your Lenten journey, Faithful Reader.  May it help you to consider the true wonder of this Easter season which begins today: There is a God who loves you so very much that He did indeed provide the way to salvation.  Now that’s sweet!

Pastor Chuck

 

Thoughts about Ash Wednesday from a non-denominational pastor

Many of my dear sisters and brothers in Christ will be receiving ashes on their foreheads today.  As a non-denominational pastor, I’d like to share a few thoughts about what Ash Wednesday means to me.

I was born to Roman Catholic parents.  They faithfully went to Mass each Sunday, dragging my brother and me along with them.  They also hit all the Holy Days of Obligation with us in tow.  That meant that we got ashes on our foreheads every year at the beginning of Lent.  At the time, all I cared about was that this was bringing us closer to Easter and a basket filled with chocolate bunnies.

As I got a little older, I listened to the readings at these gatherings, again without any real impact on my life.  As soon as I was old enough to decide whether I wanted to continue down my parent’s path of religious belief, I opted out.

Many years later life-changing things happened to me, and I found my self back in a church.  This time it was Lutheran.  These good folks also had a special midweek gathering at the beginning of the Lenten season where they, too, had ashes put on their foreheads.

By this time, thankfully, I knew more about the reasons behind this, which gave me a better appreciation of the symbolism.  My faith journey continued and my family and I landed in a non-denominational church.  I was, and am, still deeply moved by this approach.  When church life here is lived in the proper light, the non-denominational church answers to God and not the traditions of men.  Therefore, I found no Ash Wednesday celebrations among these good people.

More time has passed, and I am now an ordained pastor of a non-denominational ministry.  What may be surprising to some is that I will be assisting at an Ash Wednesday service at a Lutheran Church this evening.  How did this come about, you might ask?

My wife and I have been blessed to become friends with the Pastor of the local Lutheran Church.  She is a dynamic person of God, whose devotion to the Word, to prayer, and to others is inspiring.  We met at an ecumenical gathering of local pastors who get together every Saturday morning at 7 to pray for revival in our area.

Pastor Wheatley has invited Betsy and me to participate at this evening’s service at her church: Betsy will lead us in song and I will help distribute ashes.  This is what got me thinking about this topic today.  Why me?  And why ashes?

Non-denominational or not, I have concluded that the receiving of ashes on this day is a very good thing to do.  The ashes themselves symbolize three things: our sinfulness, our mortality, and the hope we have in God through the finished work of Jesus Christ.

The first two of these of go together; the bible teaches (and my life proves) that all people are hopelessly lost in sin.  Only God, in His mercy, can save us from eternal doom.  The ashes remind me of this fact today.  They also serve to refresh my memory about my own mortality; that no matter how good I feel physically today, at age 59, I am still much closer to the end of my natural life than I am to its beginning.  When this sobering thought is taken with the first point made, I am ever so glad for the third one!

The ashes, placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross, are a visual reminder of the reality of the love of God for us all.  Jesus, God’s Son, chose to die an awful death on a cross in order that sinners (that’s all of us) could be saved.  Peter expressed it this way: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

I can’t save myself, and no other human can do it for me either.  Only faith in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ can.  The ashes on my forehead remind me of this awesome truth again today.  I’ll gladly hand them out and humbly receive them.  The only title I bear today is follower of Christ, for it is the only one that truly matters.

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck