If you’re unfamiliar with it, Ash Wednesday seems an odd tradition. Ashes of burned crosses from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are rubbed on the forehead in the shape of a cross.
(Photo: By Oxh973, Jennifer Balaska. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
So what’s the point of wearing ashes on Ash Wednesday? The cinder residue is reminiscent of the biblical act of repenting “in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). (Speaking of ashes, the holiday also represents “National No Smoking Day” in Ireland.)
Many Christians have no connection with Ash Wednesday’s tradition.
But we all have need of what it represents. Every day.
Most of us Christians have experienced those incredible moments of intimacy with God when we have no yearning for any earthly joy, much less for sin. Christ becomes our entire desire.
In those times, we make impassioned commitments of absolute dedication. We really believe we have turned a corner in our spiritual lives. But for some reason . . . it doesn’t last.
In those deflating moments, our spirituality exits like air from a balloon:
- Driving away from church, our family fights over where to eat.
- After our quiet time, our bickering children rapidly rob us of joy.
- On the way to work, a hurried driver cuts us off and waves with only a fraction of his hand.
All of a sudden, commitment wanes. And these are just the little things.
What about real life crises? What about those times when success is demanded but a lack of success seems all we get?
Jesus spoke words of encouragement for moments just like these.
I have a friend named Brad who made the front page of the paper, because he almost drowned. His rescue was extraordinary.
He set out with a small raft and his bike, intending to make his way to a nearby lake. As he walked through the woods toward the lake, there was nowhere to walk except through sludge. He eventually abandoned his bike and boat.
And when it got dark, Brad got lost.
He slogged through the darkness only to find himself eventually floating in the middle of Lake Lewisville. Being as skinny as a rail with zero body fat (what’s that like?), he was soon on the brink of hypothermia.
Brad told me he had always been one never to ask for help. And yet, in this crisis, he screamed at the top of his lungs: “Oh my God! Please help me!”
You know how he was he rescued?
Not long ago, my body gave me a little gift. I awoke suddenly one night with a smarting pain in the body. No matter how I fidgeted and adjusted, the hurt in my lower back only intensified.
The best way I can describe the discomfort compares to having a doctor insert a three-inch hypodermic needle just to the left of the spine, exactly where the kidney sits. Occasionally, just for fun, the doc then twists the needle in a slow, clockwise motion.
The pain literally nauseated me.
Never before had I experienced such an inescapable ache.
The most frightful part was I had no idea what was happening.
Very few people are drawn to God by intimidation.
Instead, the Lord urges us to come to Him by revealing the kindness of His mercy.
Once we comprehend the depth of our imperfections, and the futility of our own efforts to remove them, we are in a position to respond to God’s kindness.
Jesus revealed this simple truth one day in Jerusalem with an act of mercy at the Pools of Bethesda.
I’ll never forget the day the air conditioner went out in my car. Although summer wouldn’t officially begin for another two weeks, for me, it officially began that day.
(Photo: Sunset over Joppa, where Jonah boarded a ship to flee from God.)
The blistering Texas highway winds reminded me of Jonah, the pouting prophet who sulked in the sun with a scorching wind on his head.
There’s nothing like losing your creature comforts to put a little perspective on our priorities.
Not long ago I stopped at a stop sign so intriguing that I doubled back to take its picture. Here it is.
(Picture I took: Stop and Ponder Scripture)
What a great sign! After snapping the picture, I pulled to the side of the road and watched the next five cars that pulled up to the stop sign. Only one stopped. The rest rolled on through.
Later, I got to thinking about the intersection. “STOP—Ponder Scripture.” The command is there—and at a crossroads many stop at every day. Yet the surrounding neighborhood seems unaffected. They see the stop sign—but not the street sign.
I confess that, at times, I do too.
I commute to work in the dark hours of the morning. Navigating the twisting country roads on my way to the highway, my headlights are the only illumination. But I always have to watch out for critters that get frightened by my lights. I see lots of roadkill. (Unlike some, I don’t pray over them.)
(Photo: www.flickr.com/photos/proimos, via Creative Commons)
More than once I have slowed to a stop for deer to scramble over adjacent fences, or a family of raccoons to cross single file, or numerous rabbits, skunks, squirrels, cats, and dogs. (I never slow down for snakes.) One morning, a buck with a multi-pointed rack just stood still and stared me down as I inched by. No movement. No fear. Amazing.
And then there are possums. Oh, dear.
Jesus reminds us that a person’s appearance and even behavior can be misleading. There were people in Jesus’ day who looked impressive, but their hearts were far from God. They drew near to God with their lips—their words—but that’s it.
Let’s look beyond our starched shirts and beautiful blouses to the heart that lies beneath them. Evaluate the product of your heart. Do you strive for purity inside as well as out?
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What has God called you to change, maybe for years, but you keep Him at arm’s length? What is Jesus working to change in you right now?
God reads your mail; God knows your heart and mine. Stop struggling to receive what Jesus offers you; release your life into His care.
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