Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Questions About Ash Wednesday

Anytime I bring up Lent and Ash Wednesday there's always a hesitation and the ultimate, "isn't that a 'Catholic' thing?" Certainly it is something practiced by the Roman Catholic Church, just as Christmas and Easter are.  But the underlying assumption when someone asks "isn't that Catholic" is that the practices and observances aren't biblically based but found only in tradition or superstition.  Nothing can be further than the truth.  The placing of ashes on the forehead during a day of fasting in repentance comes straight from the Bible.
To my Evangelical compatriots who are concerned or confused about Ash Wednesday and it's biblical foundations: the placing of ashes (or sometimes "dust") on the forehead was a means for biblical figures to show grief, sorrow, and repentance. This is often accompanied by the wearing of "sackcloth" or the tearing/rending of their garments while fasting.  Here are just a few examples I could find from scripture.
Joshua 7:6 - Shortly after the God's victory over Jericho, the Israelites suffered a humiliating defeat at Ai due to their sin.  Joshua and the Israelite elders confess and repent before God by tearing their clothes and sprinkling dust on their heads.
Esther 4 - After Esther's uncle Mordecai learned that the evil Haman had hatched a plot to kill all the Jews of Persia, "[Mordecai] tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly".
2 Samuel 13 - After being raped and then abandoned, Tamar tore her clothes and put ashes on her head.
Jeremiah 6 - After delivering the Word of the LORD that Israel was going to be destroyed by God's wrath, the Prophet Jeremiah encourages his people to "Put on sackcloth, my people, and roll in ashes; mourn with bitter wailing…for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us."
Ezekiel 27 - Ezekiel delivers the Word of the LORD detailing the destruction of the city of Tyre.  In wake of it's destruction their neighbors will put on sackcloth and "sprinkle dust on the their heads, and roll in ashes"
Luke 10 - Jesus pronouncing judgment on 2 nearby cities said that if Tyre would have witnessed His miracles, "they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes".
Lamentations 2 - After witnessing the destruction of Jerusalem, the survivors mourn with sackcloth and dust.
Daniel 9 - After being taken into Babylonian captivity, the prophet Daniel confesses his sin and the sin of all Israel before God. He writes, "So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes."
Jonah 3 King of Nineveh hearing of God's wrath puts on sackcloth and sits in the dust.
Job 2 - After the death of his children and personally being inflicted with a terrible disease Job is found in sackcloth, sitting in ashes.
Job 42 - After finally meeting God face to face the humbled Job responds, "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."
Nehemiah 9:1 After hearing the priest Ezra read the Law for the first time in generations, the people who are overcome with grief repent before God with fasting, sackcloth, and placing dust on their heads.
Now I certainly don't believe or teach that the imposition of ashes itself grants you forgiveness or impresses God.  In fact relying solely on an outward action when not accompanied by faith and repentance is criticized by God.
Isaiah 58:5 "Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?"
In a Christian context the ashes are not meant to impress God or anyone else.  They are meant for you!  They are meant to remind you of the stark reality that one day you will die and face the Judgment seat of Christ. Which is why when I place the ashes on your forehead you'll hear me quote Ecclesiastes, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return".  We were created for the glory of God and called to walk in faith with Christ.  If we have wandered (and we all wander), then Ash Wednesday is the day of fasting, prayer, and repentance just like Daniel, Joshua, Job…did.
I hope you will join us for our Ash Wednesday service at 6:30pm.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Life Together

"It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians, Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Chris­tian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. 'The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ ! If Christ had done what you are doing , who would ever have been spared.' (Martin Luther)"
 - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Contemporary Worship vs. The Work of the People (liturgy)

This video is a little harsh, and I think overly simplistic in its criticism.  However there are some good thoughts here.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pastors who are forced out

***Disclaimer*** This in no way is indicative of my current situation at New Life Fellowship.  These are just interesting facts about the American Church at large**** 

Christianity Today had an interesting overview of Pastor/Church conflicts and what was likely to cause a pastor to be forced out of a Church.  Here are some of the statistics:

  • Churches with a sermon length of 11-20 mins were twice as likely as others to have a conflict leading to the pastor leaving
  • Churches where 90% or more of the regular attendees are women have a 1 in 5 chance to have had a fight that led to a leader leaving
  • Female-led churches are nearly twice as likely to have a conflict where the pastor leaves.
  • Churches where the pastor is under 30 had a 29% chance it lost it's pastor in the last 2 years due to conflict
  • Churches where 75%-85% of the church is over 60 years old were 3 times more likely than average to have had a conflict in which the pastor left.
  • Churches with no adults over 35 where more likely to have a pastor leave in conflict when compared to the churches with the over 60 crowd.
  • Half of the churches where 56%-75% of the people earned less than $25k had a pastor leave due to conflict.
  • Churches where over 75% of the congregation earned less than $25k were far less likely to have conflict leading to the pastor leaving when compared to the average.
Here are some other interesting (and alarming) statistics:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What do you believe about worship?

Worship is a powerful word in the Christian community.  People look forward to it, we fight over it, we seek God in it.  But what is it?  Or at least, how would you define it?

Take a moment to answer that question first.  How would you define worship?

Now thinking of worship, what are the necessary activities that must take place for an act to be considered the worship of God?

And finally he's a trickier question... how much of your view of Christian Worship is shaped by and informed by scripture?

Worship seems to be a central act of the Christian Church, with teaching the Bible as the other central act.  Yet how much of our worship activity is informed by the Bible?  From a scriptural standpoint where do Evangelical Christians base and justify their worship acts?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Martin Luther on the Law and the Gospel

“The law is divine and holy. Let the law have his glory, but yet no law, be it never so divine and holy, ought to teach me that I am justified, and shall live through it. I grant it may teach me that I ought to love God and my neighbour; also to live in chastity, soberness, patience, etc., but it ought not to show me, how I should be delivered from sin, the devil, death, and hell.

Here I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law,) but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me : to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel willeth me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth.

Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.”

–Martin Luther, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Philadelphia: Smith, English & Co., 1860), 206.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Gospel According to Thomas

I absolutely love the sermon topic of the Sunday after Easter!  Every year following Easter we read the story of "doubting Thomas".

As a pastor I have well meaning Christians approach me frequently asking for help in arguing their friends to Christ.  Now they won't put it that way but basically that's what they're trying to do.  A typical question may look like this: "So-n-so believes evolution disproves the Bible, do you have a good book you can recommend to disprove evolution?"