There are times when I feel I need to write about an issue, but have not prepared. This is one of those times.
Today is Ash Wednesday; it’s super cold outside; our Wednesday evening church services were cancelled due to weather; I don’t have to work tomorrow – because of weather; and a candle with a cedar wick is burning on my computer desk.
I think I will share my thoughts, in no particular order of importance, about Lent.
First, I am a Baptist (just not of the Reformed persuasion).
Never in my religious/denominational traditions have we ever celebrated Lent, much less Ash Wednesday. The only ashes that I ever got on me was from stoking a fire. So, I cannot speak with authority regarding Lent or mid-week ashes, only getting burned by a wood stove.
On the other hand, I do know a little about grace. It was by God’s grace that I was saved by faith, not by my own works, otherwise I’d have something of which to boast (Eph. 2:8). Mercy was something shown to me, unworthy as I was, by the grace of a loving God; it was a gift.
For thousands of years people did all kinds of things which pointed forward toward the day in which all sin would be nailed to a cross – the cross. When Jesus shed His blood on that cross, and then later rose from the grave, my sin was forgiven (should I accept the gift by faith) and Christ’s righteousness was imputed to me (Rom. 4:22-25).
Penance is no longer necessary, only praise.
Second, you do what you want.
Just because I don’t do the whole Lent and ash-on-my-forehead thing, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Back in my more legalistic days I would consider anyone who would go through all the motions of Ash Wednesday, the stations of the cross, or whatever, as…well…ungodly. Now I know better.
Many times we like doing things that cause us to be more focused on, to remember, or to celebrate an important event. If done with the right heart, nothing is wrong with that.
“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day [alike]. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth [it] unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard [it]. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.” – Romans 14:5-6 KJV
Third, I will keep my fasting between God and myself.
Friends, I am not a scholar on par with Joel Osteen, but the best as I can tell, regular fasting was not as big a practice in the Bible as many think. Sure, people fasted, but have you ever considered the context each time it’s mentioned? For the most part, fasting was done as a response, not an obligatory (or otherwise) tradition. Most fasting was done in sorrow and with a heart of repentance, or as a product of mourning (2 Samuel 12:16-17). I certainly don’t remember any references suggesting fasting to lose weight (Rick Warren).
What’s more, Jesus Himself told us that when we do fast (for whatever reason), it should not be a public spectacle. On the contrary, Jesus told his disciples “when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast” (Matt. 6:16). So why put ash on one’s face?
Giving up things?
I guess what really gets me about the whole “fasting for Lent” thing is that Jesus gave His life for us so that we could have life, and life “more abundantly.” What makes people think that giving up something for a month, like chocolate or meat, is a true sign of spirituality? What makes one think it earns brownie points with God? Is that too simplistic a question?
You see, here’s the thing for me: Jesus wants us to present our bodies a “living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is [our] reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). That’s a year-round thing. I mean, seriously, what is giving up cheeseburgers for Lent in comparison to Christ humbling Himself and becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:8)? Do we think giving up cigarettes will impress Him?
God doesn’t need us to sacrifice a thing or two for a little while, only to return to it after Easter. God wants our praise, our worship, our obedience, and our love all year long.
Ash on my forehead?
Personally, since I already have a gold cross on my seminary class ring, I hope others will be able to tell to Whom I belong by something other than an ashen cross on my forehead. They should know I’m a Christian by the fruit I bear year-round, and by my love (John 13:35).
The rest of you can do what you want. If it makes you feel more devoted, go for it. If you feel more spiritual, have at it. Just make sure you wash your face before you lie down on my clean, white pillow case.
Oh, and could you please be so gracious to donate the food you don’t eat to your local Baptist food bank? We’ve lent a lot, already. 😉