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Showing posts with label Lenten Practice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lenten Practice. Show all posts

Thursday, March 2, 2017


Luke 3:7-9
7 When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said,
“You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? 8 Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. 9 Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

Mark 1:14-15
14 Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News.
15 “The time promised by God has come at last!”
he announced.
“The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”

Understanding the Scriptures
            John the Baptist is the speaker in the Luke passage.  You may have heard of him.  John the Baptist was a fire and brimstone preacher. He didn’t cut people any slack. He’s known for preaching harsh, judgmental messages that pointed out people’s sins and called them to repent.  A lot of people in John’s day thought they were safe from God’s wrath because they were Jews—descendants of Abraham, God’s chosen people.  John thought differently. He called even the most righteous of them--the Pharisees--a brood of vipers! The fact that someone was a descendant of Abraham meant nothing to John.
            If John were here today, he would bluntly proclaim it doesn’t matter what your parents and grandparents believed or did. All that matters is what you believe and do.   And John would look at you with his fiery eyes of judgment and boldly preach: “You need to repent! You need to turn away from your sins and turn to God!”
            Most people today don’t like to hear that message. We’d much rather listen to Jesus—who was kind and healed the sick and ate with sinners and turned water into wine.  Our popular image of Jesus is a forgiving man who carries sweet little baby lambs around all day.  However, the Bible tells us Jesus preached the same message as John.  The “Good News” Jesus preached was this: “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15)  Repentance was as much a part of Jesus' message as John's. 

Repentance - The Pivot
            Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the first day of the season of Lent. For
Christians, Lent is a 40-day period of spiritual preparation leading up to Easter. During Lent, we turn away from more worldly pursuits and focus on spiritual growth through prayer, study, and service.  This year, Lent runs from March 1 – April 15.  (By the way, if you look at a calendar and count up the days, you’ll find it’s actually 46 days. That’s because we don’t count the 6 Sundays in Lent. On Sunday’s, we always celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. And it just doesn’t seem right to mourn and fast and be somber when you are celebrating Christ victory of sin and death. So we get a break from Lent on the Sundays. That leaves 40 days.)
            This year, Lent coincides with the NCAA Men’s College basketball tournament, popularly known as March Madness. So I will draw some parallels between the Christian faith and basketball.  In basketball, you cannot walk or run without bouncing the ball (known as dribbling).  If you stop dribbling, you cannot move anymore. You must stay in place. The only thing you can do is pass the ball to another player, shoot at the basket, or pivot.  Here’s how you pivot. You keep one foot firmly planted and you pivot (or turn) around on that one foot. With a pivot, you can legally turn all the way around without moving forward or backward.
            The pivot is a good illustration for repentance.  Repentance 180 degrees pivot.  It is pivoting (or turning) away from sin and bad behavior toward God.  When we think about repentance, we usually emphasis the bad things we’re going to stop doing. “I’m gonna stop being so selfish…” That’s good! However, don’t forget you are pivoting away from sin toward God, which ought to lead you to do other things, good things. Here’s some examples:
  • Pivot away from being selfish and judgmental and learn to serve others.
  • Pivot away doing everything your own way and pray more to ask what God wants.
  • Pivot away from just entertaining yourself and focus more on studying God’s Word. 
            The pivot—repentance—is the key to key to success in the Christian faith. You can’t be a Christian without it. 

The 3-Point Shot
            The key to success in a basketball game is often the 3-point shot. The 3-pointer was not always part of the game.  It was introduced in either the 1960s or 70s and it has changed the game.  Normally you get two points for making a basket.  However, if you are farther away—past the 3-point line—you get three points.  The 3-pointer has made teams with shorter players more competitive against taller teams.  The shorter players may be less effective driving to the basket for a lay up, but they may still hang back from farther away and score more points if they are accurate shooters.  This has changed the way many teams play the game.  Coaches need different game plans.  The 3-pointer has also made it possible for teams who fall behind in the score to catch up more quickly.
            But that's basketball.  I’d like to challenge you to attempt a different kind of 3-point shot during Lent. This 3-point shot will help you pivot away from sin toward God.  For the 40 days of Lent, I challenge you to focus on three things:  prayer, study, and service.
            1 - Prayer.  I challenge you to pray more during March Madness.  Pray at least five times every day.  That might seem like a lot for some people, but it's not as hard as you think.  Say a prayer when you wake up; it will help set the tone for your whole day.  Then pray again before you go to bed; it will help you have a more restful sleep.  Add to this a blessing before every meal (most people eat three meals each day) and you have a total of five prayers for the day.  You can also pray at other times during the day: while you are driving (keep your eyes open!), before a test at school or important meeting at work, as you think of something for which you're thankful, or whenever you think about praying.  Focusing on prayer will help you grow closer to God during the 40 days of Lent.
            2 - Study.  I challenge you to study God's Word more during March Madness.  Perhaps you could read one chapter of your Bible each day; you could start with the Gospel of Matthew.  Another idea is to spend a set amount of time--10 or 15 minutes--hand copying the scripture.  This can be a very effective method for those who struggle to focus while they read (and it will let you practice yor handwriting).  Maybe you could join a Sunday school class or Bible study if you are not already part of one.  I invite you to come to my church on Wednesday nights or Thursday mornings for our study "The Story"   We have classes for kids, teens, and adults.
            3 - Service.  Do something selfless every day to help someone else. It cold be a kinds word or offering a prayer for someone on Facebook.  We will have some opportunities at my church you can pug in to serve.  On Sunday, March 19, we will offer several outreach projects in or for our community.  On March 26, we will have a spring cleaning day at my church.  People will serve by cleaning up and making repairs to the church facilities.  We have other opportunities to serve as well.  I invite you to join us for one or more or all of these service opportunities.  It will help you grow closer to God as you serve.
I challenge you to make 3-point shot for March Madness.  Focus on prayer, study, service.  Try it for 40 days and see if it doesn't help you grow closer to God.  I pray you have a meaningful and holy Lent.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Funeral for "Old Self" - Ash Wednesday Message

Goodbye Self

1 Peter 2:21-25
21 For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.
22 He never sinned,
    nor ever deceived anyone.
23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
    nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
He left his case in the hands of God,
    who always judges fairly.
24 He personally carried our sins
    in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
    and live for what is right.
By his wounds
    you are healed.
25 Once you were like sheep
    who wandered away.
But now you have turned to your Shepherd,
    the Guardian of your souls.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today for the funeral of “Old Self.”  One of the core beliefs of the Christian faith is that we let our “Old Self” die.  I know, it sounds sort of depressing—all this talk about death.  But hold on, we’re talking about the death of things that we want to die—things that should die.  We’re talking about letting sin and selfishness die.  And this type of death is joyous, because it means getting rid of the very things that keep us from being truly alive.  This “Old Self” steals our joy and wrecks our relationships with God and the people around us.
            Galatians 2:20 says, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.  So as I was thinking about this verse and the meaning and purpose of the Lenten season, I had an idea: “Let’s have a funeral for our “Old Self.””   

            Normally when you have a funeral, you have a eulogy.  That means you praise the person’s character and recall the best of who they were.  I have never been to a funeral where they said the deceased person was a lousy bum and never did any good and we’re glad to see him go.  No, at most funerals they make the deceased sound like a saint (even if they weren’t).  On a few occasions, I left the funeral service wondering if I accidentally slipped into a service for the wrong person.  As I left I kept asking myself, “Who were they talking about? Not the person I knew!”  Since this isn’t a real funeral, we can just be perfectly honest. 
What can we say about “Old Self?”  “Old Self” wasn’t the kind of person we’re very proud of.  Sure, we had some fun together.  Old Self liked to have fun.  In fact, he put his own selfish desire for fun ahead of God and everything else.  He didn’t care who he hurt or who he disappointed as long as he made himself “happy.”  We went along with him for a little while.  However, the “happiness” we found with Old Self was hollow.  It never lasted.  It never satisfied.  It was like the immature antics of adolescence; it seemed fun at the time, but now it just seems foolish.  We grew up, but Old Self never did.  How sad.  Old Self always thought he was the center of the universe and everyone else was put here to please him.  He never outgrew it.
            I remember one time, someone told Old Self how selfish he was being.  Well, Old Self couldn’t stand for that.  No sir.  He retaliated with a verbal assault that would make a drill sergeant proud.  Then he stormed out of the room and gave the person the cold shoulder for a week.  They were only being honest and trying to help.  But Old Self didn’t want to hear it. 
Old Self did worse things than that.  One time, he betrayed his best friend in order to improve his own social standing.  Another time he stole something from a store.  He ruined people’s reputations and broke people’s hearts.  Old Self was a reckless piece of work.
Most people didn’t know it, but Old Self was a really good liar.  People didn’t know, because he was so good at it.  He would lie if it served his purposes.  And he did it often.
            You never wanted to cross Old Self.  He was the type who would get revenge.  ‘Don’t get mad, get even’ was his motto.  Forgiveness was as foreign concept to Old Self.  
            Thankfully, Old Self never murdered anyone, but he thought about it a time or two.  Jesus said, “If you hate someone, it is like committing murder in your heart.”  He also said “if you look at a woman with lust you have already committed adultery in your heart.”[i]  Old Self did all of these.  He had a lying, murderous, adulterous heart.  And if he’d had his own way, who knows what would’ve happened. 
            So what can I say?  Normally, we are pretty sad at a funeral.  But I’m just not sad to see Old Self go.  “So long Self.  We don’t need you anymore.  We don’t want you anymore.  We are better off without you.  Hopefully, we won’t miss you.” 

Final Viewing
            I invite you to come take a final viewing of your “Old Self.”  As you do, write down a bad characteristic in your life you would like to let die.  Place in the box and burry it or, better yet, cremate it by burning it in a fire.  Take a moment to reflect on that selfish part of you would like to die.

Get Back in that Coffin!
As you can see, the death of Old Self is a lot different from a normal funeral.  And there’s a problem with burying poor Old Self.  Old Self didn’t go willingly.  You and I wanted him to go, but Old Self didn’t want to go.  He was fighting right up to the end, scratching and clawing to keep from being cast out of our hearts.  In fact, he still doesn’t want to go.  Sometimes we can still hear him begging to come back inside our heart.  The real problem with burying Old Self is he keeps trying to rise up out of the casket.  It would be kind of funny if you were looking at the scene from outside.  Old Self keeps trying to pop up out of the coffin, and we keep trying to push him back in—holding him down in there so he can’t get out. 
May the almighty and merciful God,
    who desires not the death of a sinner
         but that we turn from wickedness and live,
accept your repentance, forgive your sins,
    and restore you by the Holy Spirit to newness of life.  Amen.

[i] Matthew 5:22, 28