PRAYER—O Lord, govern my life by your wisdom, so that my soul may always be serving you as you desire, not as I may choose. Do not grant what I ask if it offends your love, which must always be living in me. Let me die to myself, that I may serve you; let me live to you, for you are the true life. Amen. (John Wesley)*
*Beacon Hill Press (2011-09-01). Year B: Ashes to Fire: Daily Reflections from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost (Kindle Locations 467-469). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.
Here is a link to another top-notch organization, Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. More options for living out your faith in a world-changing way this Lenten season. And you can keep living compassion as a lifestyle all throughout the year!
Today begins a 14 week journey of faith called Ashes to Fire. It begins in the ashes of repentance and reflection. Ashes are an ancient symbol of death. The ancients had a much closer relationship with death than we do today. Hospitals, nursing homes, and funeral homes keep us separated strangely from our mortality. One thing we can’t separate ourselves from is grief. As Coldplay reminds us: sometimes you “lose something you can’t replace.” It became a tradition to make a physical statement of loss and reflection by covering oneself with ashes and even tearing garments or putting on obviously uncomfortable ones. No need to pretend or save face. Something or someone important has been lost. It’ll be a while before we’re restored to normal. Sackcloth and Ashes.
Physical death and grief are devastating realities. But so is spiritual death caused by sin. When we realize we’ve been on a wrong path sometimes we need a powerful symbol to validate a definite u-turn. Sin is anything that gets in-between us and God.
It could be just about anything: Disobedience to known commands from Scripture. Disobedience to the guiding voice of the Spirit or our conscience. Preoccupation with things of the world (entertainments, material goods, career advancement, even family) which keeps us consistently from being close to God. Unforgiveness toward the sins and imperfections of others. Lustful thoughts, overly sensual attitudes or dress, allowing are eyes to wander are also examples of sins. Pride of life or dress. Spiritual pride toward the outward sins of others. Spiritual hypocrisy of hiding our true motives. Half-hearted devotion or service to God. Unbridled anger. The list could be endless. But the results are similar. Spiritual death. Scripture warns us as soon as we become aware of sin we should confess it and deal with it before God and others.
But there is value in regularly and intentionally bringing both of these realities together in a public way. All of us will die someday and therefore must live sober lives. All of us have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. None of us are so holy as to not have areas of life which need renewal. So Ash Wednesday is like a big family meeting where everybody checks in with their commitment to God above all. It’s a solemn assembly that reminds us all that repentance is the only path to forgiveness. God is our only hope for eternal life. We admit that we are prone to drift away from Him if we just leave it in default mode.
And so we come. Apart from work and family and chores and entertainments. We come to God. We acknowledge we were born in sin and will die forever unless we receive God’s grace. Sin is serious business and we are having a going-out-of-business sale. Ashes on the forehead symbolize that we know we are dust and desire to have spiritual life, given by God. We kneel, we are marked with a cross. We rise in repentance. We pray for newness of life. We rehearse the great forgiveness that is ours. And we wipe away the ashes, anticipating a renewed walk with God. Just a simple ceremony. We could totally phone it in or fake it. Absolutely. Nothing magical about it. But for a few moments each year there is a fresh reminder of how deadly sin is and how amazing grace is. Why not do it for real? And should we stumble again before next year, we’ll remember how big a deal it is and know exactly what to do: repent, take it seriously, and be assured of forgiveness before sin swallows us up. We lose things we can’t replace. We break things we can’t fix ourselves. But God can. Ash Wednesday.
We begin in the ashes of repentance. By the grace of God we rise to seek Him more and grow in grace between now and Pentecost at the end of May. So let’s begin the journey with Jesus together.
Engage the Word
When Jesus walked the earth, the Bible teaches us that God was walking the earth in human form. So a lot of people think that means God wasn’t in heaven while Jesus was here. But passages like today make it clear that’s not true. In the baptism scene we see or hear Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all at once. New Testament writers never try to “explain” the Trinity (the Three-In-Oneness of God) they simply show and tell us what happened. I won’t attempt to fully explain it. But all three (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) are required to talk about God. Wouldn’t we expect God to be more complex than us?
I have a new friend who’s son was a dual-threat quarterback in high school. He could throw the ball or run effectively on any given down. Now in college, coaches are training him to be a slot receiver. So technically he’ll be a triple threat on special plays! Let’s call him Vince. There’s only one Vince, but inside of him there’s a quarterback, a running back, and a slot receiver! He can’t be all three at once like God, but we get the analogy.
And here’s the point. At all times God is a triple threat. Sin had no chance against a Father who wants to forgive, a Son who’s willing to lay down His human Life, and the Holy Spirit who could pass the Spiritual power of resurrection on to human beings. The first verse you learn is often: “God is love.” For that to be true, the trinity is helpful. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are like three centers-of-being in God. All three are actively loving each other at all times. All three have equal powers but they subordinate themselves in role and function in order to deliver humanity from our fallen condition.
Jesus had self-imposed human limitations. He had to learn and grow just like us. But when he came up out of that water he realized fully that in some mysterious way he was a powerful part of a triple threat that would overcome sin, death, and hell!
And he went to war against the devil, and ignorance, and fear, injustice, hate, hunger, violence, and sin.
He overcame temptation, put Satan on the run and began preaching the Good News. I don’t know what you’re facing today. But if you take Jesus’ message to heart: “Turn away from your sins, because the Kingdom of heaven is near!…” you’ll find the King is a triple threat to overcome all obstacles; self-inflicted or otherwise. The power to change your life and, through you, your world is nearer than you think!
So what does God want you to do today? Who can you bless? What habit can you break? How could you begin serving your church or neighbor? Have no fear. The three-in-one has got your back!
Jeremiah 1. Pray. Read. Reflect. Respond.
Follow this the link to a Jeremiah video I made last year to introduce a Jeremiah series. It may help you reflect and get into Friday’s Engage the Word reading! We had fun making it. Traveling from the top of the Willis Tower to the shores of Indiana Dunes!
Connect with Engage the Word at NewHope Community Church Click on the Bible logo and get signed up for daily readings sent to your inbox. Join us on this 40 Day journey through the Bible! Pray. Read. Reflect. Respond.
When God delivered the Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh, it was a mighty act. Pharaoh did not believe it was possible. That’s how it worked. After the plagues, he let the people go, even giving them valuables to support the journey. But then he had a change of mind. He pursued God’s people to the edge of the sea. As they were essentially trapped, panic set-in. “Why did you bring us out here to die in the desert? It was better back in Egypt!,” the people cried. But Moses wasn’t buying it.
“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today…the LORD will fight for you; you need only be still.”
Moses was a true leader. On this day his faith was at the forefront of his mind and heart, where it could actually function. He knew that the LORD alone had gotten them this far. He also trusted that God didn’t bring them this far to abandon them now. So, he declared the simple truth that could save all of us considerable stress in life. “Do not be afraid.” Well, fear is a pretty normal response when the army of an empire is about the crush you. “Do not be afraid. Stand firm…” But they saw Pharaoh’s army! “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you WILL see the deliverance the LORD WILL bring to you today…” But they wondered why Moses or God allowed them to be in this spot. Surely it was poor planning or recklessness! And this is the same mistake we make today.
We think that being in God’s will means no problems. As soon as trouble hits, we’re ready to try something else! When circumstances surprise us, we who testify to being believers can become atheists. We act as if God doesn’t exist or at least doesn’t matter. Our first response is often to try to “figure out” how to fix our problems. But as believers, perhaps our first move should be to look to God. How often do we truly pray first? In a very real way our battle is always the LORD’s. We should never assume that God is surprised just because we are. In the New Testament, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world!”
At that moment, Moses realized why they couldn’t have faith. Because their eyes were fixed on circumstances. But if they would stop fearing and stand firm (both implying trust in God’s power) they would then “see the deliverance the LORD WILL bring. He hasn’t brought it yet. He allowed this to happen, but He has a plan to deliver us. “The LORD will fight for you; you need only be still.” This is a challenge to step up my faith. How about you? In times of challenge our frantic actions cannot deliver us. Freaking out never helps. God understands how tight things are. God has a plan. God WILL deliver us if we stop actively fearing and stand firm, watching Him work. And what wonders they saw…
So the question falls to us. Do we believe? If you’re up against it today, can you make the choice to stop fearing and allow God to help you stand firm? Can you get your eyes off circumstances and keep them fixed on God? Can you look with expectant eyes for His deliverance? Take heart. If you’re a fully devoted follower of Jesus, you’ve got one incredible captain! I’m going to Engage the Word today and let it guide my steps, trusting in God’s plan. I’ll stay on His mission, not getting distracted. I fully intend to see the salvation of my God today! Let’s believe God and experience his deliverance together!
39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
Luke 8:39 (NRSV)
I’m struck by how hard life was for the demoniac in Luke 8. So many years of suffering and lashing out. Now for once he’s in his right mind and people don’t want him that way. They want him at arm’s length in the category “other.” He feels it and he wants to hit the road with Jesus. But Jesus says, “no—return home and share your story.” Despite the complications, he does not hesitate. He stays put and tells them what Jesus did for him! Courageous obedience! Life is still hard, but now pulsing with meaning and purpose! The stay-put calling is less glamorous, against our instinct, but truly blessed!
I was moved tonight to be thankful for sound doctrine. In the Church of the Nazarene we have a great gift called the Manual. One of the reasons I started this blog was to express publicly how much I value our tradition as stated in the Manual.
Recent books and sermons on hell and heaven are another opportunity to highlight what’s right about our doctrine. We are careful to let Scripture be our guide. So we believe salvation is for all who repent of their sins, confess Jesus as Lord, and faithfully follow him. We don’t believe in a limited atonement. Whosoever will may come to Jesus. But we also follow the Bible on judgment. Everlasting punishment awaits all who fail to repent and/or callously reject Jesus as Lord.
Rob Bell, for example, wants to question this idea based on the philosophical idea that this makes God mean. But we’re not God so it’s not our place to reject clear Scriptures because we’re uncomfortable with the results. Mark Driscoll, on the other hand, goes so far as to teach (along with John Piper and others) that one must agree with him on hell to avoid going there. The Bible has a lot to say about punishment for false teachers. But The New Testament is clear: it’s what we believe and obey concerning Jesus which determines our destiny. That he’s the Son of God, that he came in the flesh, that he died for the sins of the world, was raised and is coming again to judge us all. But there is room for some variety on some details about judgment, hell, and heaven, where Scripture is less specific. But it’s pretty safe to say that no one will be in hell because they interpreted the Scriptures differently, unless their belief keeps them from repenting, confessing faith in, and following Jesus.
Thankfully, the Nazarene church has hammered out (and continues to study and debate for greater accuracy) clear doctrines on all major issues. These are found in The Articles of Faith. But the church has also pared these down to an Agreed Statement of Belief, which reflects the most foundational Christian beliefs (such as the Apostles Creed, etc…) as the required faith profession for membership. These are the things Scripture is undeniably clear on in multiple places, being affirmed in every age of Christianity.
I encourage you to go to nazarene.org for more information.
Recently some of our views have come under attack from relative newcomers who are committed to Reformed Tradition ideas. (As are Bell, Driscoll, and Piper). We are part of the Wesleyan-Holiness Tradition, not reformed. As one professor at Olivet Nazarene University said, “Issues like emergent are not primarily our fight. They are more of a family fight in the reformed movement. As Wesleyans we aren’t hung up on these questions.” Discipleship and evangelism form our mission.
Rob Bell has been an interesting figure, because even though he’s reformed, he believes in free will. So sometimes Nazarenes have been intrigued by him, but none I know would say he represents our views. As I pointed out in my review of his book, his views are different than ours. Quite different. But not so different as to call him unChristian. I have no agenda but truth and love in reviewing his book or in any other comments/posts I make.
I’m thankful for sound, biblical doctrine. Nazarene doctrine. Because it’s good classical Christian doctrine. I want to teach and preach that good news until Jesus returns or calls me home.
If you don’t know Jesus or even about him, can I challenge you to read the New Testament and check out a church? Jesus can save you from your sins, help you change your world, and get you ready for heaven! Join us at NewHope Community Church of the Nazarene This Sunday 10:30am, we’ll actually search for Jesus in the Scriptures! Be part of it!
The link above is to a CNN story comparing the actual significance of two very different kinds of stories and the relative coverage given to each. Here’s to fallen heroes. Fallen superstars have every resource to put their lives back together. But these soldiers gave all they had to keep the world free. Now their families will have to find hope in the ashes and move forward.
May God bless their families.
The media doesn’t get it this week. But the media often gives us what we want. So we must not get it. Jesus gets it.
“Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Jesus in John 15:13
It’s Lent. Giving up something? How about your life? Jesus did. The soldiers did. The moment they put on the uniform, their lives were no longer their own. Have we forgotten? That’s what the baptismal waters represent for us. I died. A new me is raised with Christ.
Paul wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Let’s spend Lent letting God help us give our lives back to Jesus and the Gospel. Then let’s accept God’s help to keep on living that way until our journey is done. No. greater. love. Soldiers. Jesus. Us.
Grace and Peace to you!