40 Words #1: “Ash”

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It’s Lent 2015.

Forty days of reflection and contemplation, surrender and sacrifice.

Or something like that.

I wanted to do something for Lent that would stretch me (don’t worry: I have my own practices of surrender and sacrifice, but I’m going to keep those between my family and me).

So each day during Lent, I’m going to publish a short blog/devotion wrapped around one word.

So, “40 Words.”

Each of these words represents some aspect of Lent to me. Some of them will be obvious, like today’s. Others may be more… “tangential”.

(Great word, “tangential”.)

I’ve chosen them, they are written down, and each day I’ll publish something in the morning: feel free to use it as a devotion or just a quick read at lunch.

I’m not promising anything profound; I’m just promising a presence.

So here we go.

ASH

Lent kicks off with “Ash Wednesday”. For many denominations and churches all over the world, people file into buildings of various style and size and hear readings about confession and remembrance. Songs are sung, and at some point people file up to the front of a room where they stand in front of a pastor or priest—someone “set aside” in the community to guide people, to administer sacraments, to represent them to God—who then dips his or her finger into a bowl of ashes (the burnt palm fronds from the previous years’ Palm Sunday) which are sometimes mixed with oil. The pastor/leader then will make the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead, usually saying something like, “Remember it’s from dust you have come, and to dust you will return; repent, and believe the Gospel” (or some combination thereof).

Up until a few years ago my particular faith tribe didn’t really remember Ash Wednesday or Lent, but after a few of us began engaging in the season (in particular Holy Week), the church decided to officially “making the journey.”

Ash, along with the saying, reminds me, well, of death. 

Death is something we don’t like to think about in our culture, but it’s the one thing that awaits us all. Our time on this earth is finite.

To me, ash reminds me that the life I have costs something. My affluence costs others. The food I eat costs either a life, or at the very least the time and efforts of someone, somewhere.

Ash reminds me that I’m nothing special; and yet I’m someone infinitely important.

I am loved by God. Loved on a visceral, guttural level.

A love that cost Jesus. 

And yet, I’m human. “Covered in earth and dirt.”

I stumble and fall. Limited and incapable of even living half of a day (if that) without falling victim to my pride, arrogance, narcissism, and self-centeredness.

Ash says that, somehow, I’m simultaneously both loved and flawed. 

And that’s okay.

Maybe today is about not covering up our flaws, but at the same time that God meets us right in the middle of them, not matter how serious they seem to be. 

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Lent is Coming (Don’t Look Busy)

Ash Wednesday is this week, which means that the season of Lent is upon us.

Lent is the season of the church that leads up to Easter. It is a time of preparation, meant to prepare us both to remember Jesus’ crucifixion as well as his resurrection. Historically, lent was a season where people who had left the church for one reason or another were re-integrated. The bottom line is that traditionally God’s people have used this season to reflect on areas of their lives that might need some “cleaning up”, and also to slow down in order to shed light on any new areas that might need addressing.

Part of lent is slowing down and strategically making space in your life to hear God’s voice. Usually this means “fasting” in some form or fashion.

But actually fasting—and lent—should be a little more than that. For many Christians, fasting is only half of the equation: the other half is engaging in or giving back resources, in the form of “time, talents, and treasures” that have been freed up by the fast.

So you might consider:

  • giving up lunch once a week, but then giving the money you saved to your local church or a local ministry
  • giving up Facebook or Netflix, but then giving the time you freed up to Bible study or a local mission or charity that needs help
  • giving up an hour of sleep in the morning, but then giving the time to prayer and meditation
  • giving up a snack and instead buying food that you can keep in your car to give to the hungry and homeless that you might encounter as you drive around

These are just a few examples, but I think you see the point. Lent isn’t just about giving up Chipotle or chocolate or ice cream; it’s really about carving up space to see God move in different ways. It’s about bringing some of our physical appetites under control so that we can give to needy folks. It’s about becoming aware of where we are still held captive by those same desires, and where we continually need God’s Spirit to help us, to refine us, to grow us into the people that He wants and needs us to be in His world.

I would encourage and even challenge you to be thoughtful and intentional over the next 40 days. Pick something that will open up space in your life for God to speak and move.

Personally, I am giving up a few things, one of which is Facebook (not a huge sacrifice for me, which is why there are multiple activities for me this year). But, I am also engaging in some activities that, God willing, will allow me to draw closer to God as well as to others.

(By the way, I will continue to write and publish over Lent, so feel free to subscribe here and get my blogs delivered straight to your inbox.)

If you’d like to share your ideas for Lent here, go right ahead. We’re listening. Otherwise (as Gandalf would say), “Keep it safe, keep it secret.”

May your Lenten journey be rich, and full of peace where you need it and challenge you where you need it as well.
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