I Quit Going to Church

Dear Church,

You might have received this via our regular church email, but I wanted to make sure everyone got it. Today is Ash Wednesday.  It is a day of profound meaning in the Christian calendar.  It has been part of our Christian tradition since the 5th century. Its observance connects and identifies us with Christians of all ages. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent — the six-week period preceding Easter. Two points are especially important on Ash Wednesday: first, we confront our own mortality; and second, we confess again our need of the atoning work of Christ through his death on the cross.

In the Old Testament those who repented of their sin would often throw ashes on their head and/or clothe their body in sackcloth as a sign of their repentance.  Another Biblical custom often associated with repentance was fasting (giving something up for a spiritual purpose.) Repentance and fasting are two distinctives of Lent and Ash Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday is the beginning of PREPARATION for the greater celebration of Easter.  We no longer sit in sackcloth and ashes, but we still recognize our brokenness caused by sin as we prepare to CELEBRATE the resurrection of our Lord and Savior!  The period of time we call Lent leads up to Holy Week (beginning with Palm Sunday) and points us to the ultimate celebration of Easter, which, for those who are born again, is the most significant day on the calendar!

Traditionally on Ash Wednesday many Christians have the “imposition of ashes” on the forehead (in the sign of the cross) as a TESTIMONY and a sign or symbol of MOURNING and repentance. The use of ashes reminds us that our God is a “consuming fire” and calls us to personal examination and openness before Him that he might cleanse us from our sin. It expresses willingness to engage in authentic repentance for anything the Spirit may reveal in us as displeasing to God.  It is, finally, a call to reconciliation with God and others. The Scripture calls us to repentance, reconciliation, and renewal.  It challenges us to search our hearts. It confronts every tendency we have to rely on our own righteousness.

Many people during Lent choose a type of fast (i.e. giving up entire meals or certain foods — soda, sweets, caffeine, etc. – or refraining from certain usual activities — TV, radio, etc.) and replacing them with intentional (and/or intensified) spiritual practices (prayer, Bible reading, etc.).  This is to remind us of Christ and His sacrifice and to help us focus more fully on Him.  We then break our fast on Easter to celebrate the risen Savior.  Ash Wednesday should involve sober reflection, self-examination and spiritual redirection, reminding us that no one is free from sin other than through the grace of God in Christ, but in him we are free indeed!

Tonight at 7:00 we are having an Ash Wednesday service led by our teens. I hope you can join us. But, either way, I’d like to make this invitation: Please prayerfully consider how God might lead you in these days of Lent. Would it be appropriate for you to fast? Are there spiritual practices God would have you put into place during this season? If so, I would invite you to share those decisions with a pastor, friend, confidant, or small group for encouragement and accountability.

I’ll be praying for you – and for all of us – that God will make this journey to Easter a time of growth and change as we create extra space in our lives and invite him to work in us.

 

Grace and peace,

Joel