Skip to content

The Ashes of Repentance

COVER STORY – ASH WEDNESDAY

The custom of observing a time of fasting, prayer, and repentance leading up to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection began very early in the Christian church, but practices and customs varied among congregations in different areas. The First Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) unified the Christian church in observing Lent as a period of forty days of fasting and prayer.
In A.D. 601, Gregory the Great decreed that there should be no fasting on Sunday, which was considered a day of celebration of Christ’s resurrection. So in order to maintain the forty days of fasting, he changed the beginning of Lent to Wednesday. Some sources suggest that he was also the one who initiated the practice of smearing ashes on the forehead of worshipers, saying, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (see Genesis 3:19). Thus the first day of Lent became known as Ash Wednesday.
From the most ancient of times in the Bible, ashes have been used to express sorrow and grief. Ashes were used in times of grief over some injustice or loss (2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1), or as a way of humbling oneself before God in prayer (Daniel 9:3, Genesis 18:27), and—perhaps most of all—to express sorrow for sins (Job 42:3–6, Jeremiah 6:26, Matthew 11:21). For these reasons people would sit in ashes, roll in them, or sprinkle them over their head.
The use of ashes can be a vivid reminder that we ourselves are nothing but dust and ashes. They remind us of our sin, one consequence of which is the inevitable prospect of being reduced to dust and ashes again. Fasting can be a very concrete reminder of our repentance over sin. If you remember that your fasting is a sign of repentance, the relentless hunger pains can help keep you mindful of repentance throughout the day.
However, God also warns about the human propensity to corrupt these signs of repentance. On the one hand, we might feel superior and holier for fasting or displaying the ashes on our forehead. On the other hand, it can simply become an empty action that has no corresponding repentance in the heart.Read More »The Ashes of Repentance

“Hat in Hand”

DEVOTION – ASH WEDNESDAY

An office worker named Bill had had just about enough. He was tired of the management’s incompetence. Most of all, he was tired of his immediate supervisor, Mr. Sanders. He had to vent about it somewhere, so he walked over to his co-worker’s desk and said “Sylvia, can you believe that Sanders guy? He never gets the work schedule done on time, and I think he deliberately ignores my requests for time off! A fourth grader could do a better job than he does. What a dimwit!” By this time, Sylvia was looking over Bill’s shoulder with surprised horror. Sure enough, Mr. Sanders was right behind Bill the whole time. The manager spun on his heel, stomped into his office, and slammed the door. What could poor Bill do now? There was only one thing he could do, of course. He humbly went into Mr. Sanders’s office to plead for his job. Though he wasn’t wearing a hat, I guess you could say that Bill went to his boss with his “hat in his hands.” He had no excuses–nothing to offer but a heartfelt apology.Read More »“Hat in Hand”

When It’s Time to be Uncomfortable

It’s natural to seek a certain level of comfort. I’m talking about getting and being comfortable. People want to be comfortable in their clothing, in their homes, and in their lives. If we become uncomfortable, then we try to make a change of clothing, or the body position that doesn’t feel right, or the circumstances that we face.

How does this tendency square with the Lord’s outlook in Isaiah 66:2? “But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” We can notice definite times when we should never be comfortable. We can’t afford to be comfortable with any of our sins, especially not with an attitude or habit that the Bible identifies as sinful. Each one will have to take stock of his own heart, attitudes, and actions. For example, are we comfortable in looking down on other people? Are we comfortable in letting unacceptable language tumble out of the mouth without a second thought? Are we comfortable in a routine of attending worship, only to sit there inattentive and hear little of what is said? Are we comfortable with a carefree or careless attitude toward the responsibilities that we have as family members or employees or fellow Christians?

There is a real danger in getting comfortable with sin. Regardless of what the sin may be, if we get used to it, we are making friends with a deadly enemy. If we become comfortable with our sin, we let it attach like an anchor that could sink us spiritually. If we get comfortable with our sin, the devil has an open door to chip away at our faith in the hope that it erodes down to impenitence
and unbelief.

Let’s agree on a healthy attitude of being uncomfortable with our sins. In such a state we are then the person described in Isaiah 66, the person who is “poor and of a contrite spirit.” That means that you’re not only aware of your sin, but also broken by its guilt and in desperate need of God’s forgiveness. That person then is the one on whom God looks favorably, to whom He brings His unfailing love, mercy, and comfort. Yes, God will bring His comfort to the spiritually uncomfortable.Read More »When It’s Time to be Uncomfortable

We are Not Alone

“I think it’s arrogant of us to think
that we are alone in the universe.”

So said a network television news reporter
in a discussion of some new discovery in the universe.

That statement is surely one that we would agree with, though not as the reporter intended it. He was not talking about the arrogance of the atheist who says that we are alone in the universe because there is no God. His thought was that there surely must be life somewhere in the universe besides on planet earth; the universe couldn’t possibly be as vast as it is with life on only one little speck of a planet in one galaxy.

It is both arrogant and perverse to peer out into God’s universe looking for evidence that He does not exist, for the heavens declare His glory and the firmament shows His handiwork (Psalm 19:1), even to those who do not have His Word, or who reject it.Read More »We are Not Alone

We Have Come to Worship Him

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:1-2).

This account of the coming of the wise men from the East is precious to us because of the significance it has for our own Gentile roots. We are thrilled to see how the Holy Spirit led these Gentiles to come and worship our Redeemer King so early in His life. We are thrilled with how clearly this spells out the intent of God that this Gospel of God’s love and forgiveness was intended for the people of all nations, and not for the Jews alone.Read More »We Have Come to Worship Him

Providence

While man may sin and commit evil acts, God ultimately remains in control.

Providence is not a word we use very often in our daily lives. In fact, the first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the word is Providence, Rhode Island. That city was founded by the religious dissenter Roger Williams. He left Massachusetts Bay Colony because he believed in the separation of church and state. He also believed that the Native Americans should be compensated for the land that the English were occupying. He chose the name Providence for the town because he believed God had directed him to that spot. Providence means “that activity of God whereby He uninterruptedly upholds, governs and directs the world.”Read More »Providence

Celebrating the Jesus Antipoverty Program

Basic RGB“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”

(2 Corinthians 8:9)

Fighting poverty has been at the forefront of American politics for longer than I have been alive. Every few years a new government program is established to ward off the devastating effects of poverty in our nation. This issue is customarily brought to our attention during December. Well-intentioned efforts are made during the Christmas season to gather food for the needy, winter coats for the underprivileged, and toys so that every child can have a gift under the Christmas tree. Many claim that this is what Christmas is supposed to be about. Surely the volunteers who ring bells at the red kettles across our nation would agree with this assertion. But are we ready to agree that Jesus was born to fight poverty?

Absolutely!

But not the poverty that is described as a deficiency in material goods. The poverty that caused the Son of God to be born into this world was much deeper and far more devastating in its effects than what most Americans would Read More »Celebrating the Jesus Antipoverty Program

No Small Role

Joseph, Jesus’ step-father, is mentioned only within the context of Matthew’s and Luke’s “Christmas story” accounts.
After Luke’s account of the twelve-year old Jesus in the temple (Luke ch. 2), we hear no more of Joseph in the record of Scripture.

This minimal information about Joseph from Bethlehem has not prevented any number of people from saying much more than they know about him through fictionalized accounts of the gospel in television, movies, and videos.

From the Holy Spirit’s somewhat scant portrayal of Joseph we should not conclude that he had an insignificant role in the earthly life of Jesus or in God’s plan of salvation. Joseph had no small role, but a large one with weighty responsibility.

MaryJoesphIllustr1Read More »No Small Role

Christmas reminds us that…THINGS ARE NOT AS THEY SEEM

Pastor Paul Naumann • Tacoma, Washington

“Appearances can be deceiving.”

No one knows the truth of that statement more fully than does a Christian.

Most people understand the principle. They keep it in mind as a salutary warning against the false and deceptive product advertising that floods the media in our day. They use it to bolster their defenses against the subtle tricks of con men on the street and scam artists on the internet.Read More »Christmas reminds us that…THINGS ARE NOT AS THEY SEEM