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Ash Wednesday

The Ashes of Repentance


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”


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