Thursday, February 18, 2010

Following Christ

Happy Lenten Season everyone!  This is a happy time.  A time where we can be filled with the joy of drawing closer to God by joining with Christ in his journey to the cross.

For the longest time, I believed that Ash Wednesday and Lent were things that only the Catholics observed.  I have come to learn however, that I wasn't entirely correct.  Many protestant churches, including the one to which I am a part, the United Methodist Church, do in fact observe and practice these events.  When I first learned of this, I was more overwhelmed than relieved.  This knowledge then made it clear to me that there was something else I had no clue about.  Since then, I have challenged myself to learn more about Ash Wednesday and Lent and what they mean in general and specifically, what they mean to me.  This is more information than one brief post can hold, so we will explore Lent together over the next 7 weeks until Easter.  Along this process, please feel free to comment with questions as I would be happy to address them.

So what is Ash Wednesday all about?  Good question.  Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, the 40 days (not including Sundays) that lead up to Easter.  On Ash Wednesday, you might observe many people with black ashy crosses marked on their heads.  What is that all about?  Well...they've been to an Ash Wednesday service where someone, most likely a clergy person, has placed their thumb in the bowl of ash and marked a cross on their head.  Some churches save the palm branches from the previous years Palm Sunday and burn them and crush them into ash for the following year's Ash Wednesday.  The ash itself represents the scripture in Genesis 3:19 that says, "You are dust, and to dust you shall return."  This is really to signify our mortality.  Though our souls may live forever in eternity with God, our bodies are here but for a time.  God made man/woman from the dirt and dust of the ground, and to that dirt we will return.  The mark of the cross is to indicate that we are one with Christ.  It is not a branding, but a symbol that we have chosen to follow Christ, that we belong to Christ.  When we observe Ash Wednesday, we do so with the greater Christian community of brothers and sisters, the Catholics and Protestants, our ancestors in the community of saints and with our own families here and now around the world.

One thing I wanted to point out today is that often times you hear about people giving up something for Lent.  Some people choose to do this as a way of drawing nearer to God.  Lent is about walking with Jesus through the final days of his life, his suffering and his death.  In the giving up of something, we often find that we are challenged, sometimes suffering.  In those moments we turn to God in prayer to help us get through those moments.  It's a way of fasting.  For example, I'm giving up coffee for Lent.  Aaaahhhhhh!  Oh, I know...I can't believe I'm doing this either.  My boys are preparing a storm shelter.  This morning, I got up and slowly walked towards my coffee pot wanting a cup of coffee soooo badly.  As I stood there staring at my coffee pot, listening to the tempting voices in my head, I heard the words, "pray."  So I did.  I closed my eyes right there and began to pray to God.  I lifted up thanksgiving for all that I have, for the ability to CHOOSE not to have coffee and for my savior who faced much worse in the way of suffering than I was staring at that coffee pot.  It's not about having super hero will power, but about acknowledging the choice we're making to give up whatever it is that might be taking away from our time with God.  How many hours do we spend on the computer or with the TV?  Could would not afford some of that time to God?  What about turning off the radio when in the car and using that as a great opportunity to lift up prayers?  We neglect God and Lent is a time to engage God.

Lent is also a time to acknowledge our sins and ask forgiveness.  We draw nearer to God, confessing our sins and repenting.  This is also a part of the giving up of something.  It is our penance.  Let me say here, that it is my belief that our salvation comes to us through God's grace which is received through faith.  Good works is something we do as a result of having received this powerful grace, but is not something we do TO receive it.  For example, we love our kids/pets/etc., right?  If they do something wrong, do we stop loving them?  No.  However, do we realize that there are usually consequences to poor choices and actions?  Yes.  Just because we sin does not mean that we have lost our salvation, but it does mean we have to say we're sorry (and mean it) and penance is our way of proving and/or showing we're sorry.  Some call this a form of self-punishment.  I think of it more as a spiritual discipline.  To be able to say, "okay God, I really messed up here and I am really, really sorry" and then retreat to prayer where you can contemplate and reflect on the situations and then seek God's wisdom.  We are a culture that seeks daily after answers and yet the one place we can get them, God, is the last place we're willing to go.  How much sense does that make?

Following Christ by Carmen Acevedo Butcher
In addition to giving up something for Lent, many people choose to add something for Lent.  For example, this year, to deepen my spiritual experience of Lent and to help me focus (inside the chaos that is often my life) I have chosen a Lenten Reader to guide me through the season.  The photo above is of the front cover of the reader I have chosen.  Click on it to find out more.  This reader goes through the 15 stations of the cross (come back tomorrow to learn about the stations) and has a reading for every morning and evening of Lent, as well as a devotion for Sunday's (even though they are not included in the 40 days).  You can think of Sunday's as "Little Easters".  These are special sabbath days in Lent where I get to acknowledge the spiritual work being done in me by God and...have a cup of coffee.  ;-p

Have you thought about what you might be able to add for Lent?  More prayer time?  Scripture reading?

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Believer said...

Good morning blessed one! :)

I'm in the season of adding and building up so much that I won't attempt to list everything here, but I will share that I'm so full of God's promise and hope.

Keep sharing your faith. I look forward to reading more.

MEL said...

I'm adding a reader too it's called "Seek God for the City."

Andrea said...

What a great post! I am reading a daily devotion and doing some with my kids too. That's the main addition, being sure to devote some time with my kids to God each day.

Salsa Mom said...

Wow! God's timing is so perfect, I have struggled with this concept since I became a christian a few years ago. I decided this year that I too wanted to find and learn more about it. Thanks for sharing! Please stop by my blog for a visit, I have a special badge I would love to share with you, as you are one of my favorite blogs!!!

hnb said...

This year I'm donating the money I save by fasting to Radio Methos, a holistic radio station in Cote d'Ivoire. Get Involved

Jen said...

Thanks for sharing this. I have always kind of disregarded this as a Catholic holiday and since I am not Catholic I've never participated. On Wednesday I was convicted that I could give something up for lent as a way to strengthen my relationship with Christ.

I am hoping you will share why people don't eat meat on Friday's during lent. I've always wonder the reasoning behind it. I am sure it has something to do with Christ being the sacrificial lamb. Thanks again for sharing!!!

MEL said...

I linked to this post in my blog today.

Freddae' said...

Great ideas! From readers, to prayers, to hope and faith and promise, to sharing the journey of Jesus with kiddos, to giving away tithes of the heart, to fasting, to taking a journey and trying something new with Lent this year...all I have to say is WOW!!! You all inspire me so much. Keep it up. You're making some great food for your soul!

Love to all!!!

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