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Archive for Lent


The Gospel According to Joel

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Last night for Ash Wednesday I did a survey on the minor prophet, Joel. Joel was a recommended prophetic reading for Ash Wednesday because of his emphasis on confession and repentance. But as I read the entirety of the three chapter missive, I discovered that the theme of Joel was more than a call to repent. From start to finish, Joel encapsulated the gospel.

Without going into the entirety of the 40 minute presentation, here’s the simple outline of the book that I used:

1. God loves enough to alert us to the fact that judgement is imminent. (Joel 1:1-2)
That judgement is epic to the degree that it would have generational implications. (Joel 1:3) It would be devastating (Joel 1:7) and would cause people to be filled with despair (Joel 1:11-12). Despair would turn to fear and hopelessness as they realized their helplessness (Joel 2:6, 11).

2. In the face of judgement, repentance is mandatory. (Joel 2:12-17)

3. When we repent, God promises us more than forgiveness. He promises restoration. (Joel 2:18-27)

4. When we are restored and are in close proximity to God, it is his Holy Spirit that helps us live in close proximity to God so we never wander again. (Joel 2:28-32)

5. The final word of the gospel is that God’s eternal blessing is assured. (Joel 3:17-21)

This is the gospel of God. Lay that outline against the Gospel record of the New Testament or the Epistles of Paul, and you’ll find the same outline and the same conclusion.

Categories : Lent
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Fast Facts About Fasting for Lent

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Barna Research has released a research report on those who will observe Lent by fasting in some regard. There are some interesting findings, such as on 16% of Protestants will observe Lent by some form of fasting. Another interesting insight is that younger generations are willing to give up their technology such as social media for Lent. You can read the research in full HERE.

In additional Lenten news, Christianity Today has also published an article revealing the top fasting choices of Twitter users HERE.

Categories : Barna Group, Lent
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Should We Give Things Up for Lent?

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Fasting has been a part of every world religion and belief system since the beginning of time. The practice of fasting is not uncommon or unknown in secular culture. But what makes fasting and abstinence a Christian practice? Should Christians consider giving up things for Lent? If so, what do we hope to gain from it?

Some people use fasting as a form of asceticism, “buffeting the body” with self denial in an attempt to gain mastery over the flesh and its appetites. But the apostle Paul warns us in Colossians 2:20-23 that outward practices of self denial do not automatically guarantee inward holiness.

Others use fasting as a talisman to obtain a reward or a goal. By demonstrating piety, these people fast in order to gain God’s attention in hopes of earning grace or obligating God to grant whatever request we desire.

Then there are those who use fasting as a response to a grievous moment, such as our sin or even death. We see this evidenced in the Old Testament in the lives of Job and David, to name two.

But what does the Scripture say about fasting and abstinence? What makes it unique to us as Christians? Check out what Jesus said.

One day the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked him, “Why don’t your disciples fastf like we do and the Pharisees do?” Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests mourn while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. “Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before. “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved” (Matthew 9:14-17, NLT).

Christian fasting, at its root, expresses our longing for God. But this longing is only half of the story of Christian fasting. Half of Christian fasting is that our physical appetite is lost because our longing for God is so intense. The other half is that our longing for God is threatened because our appetites are so intense. In the first half, the appetite is lost. In the second half, the appetite is resisted. In the first, we yield to the higher hunger that is. In the second, we fight for the hunger that isn’t.

The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not the bitter but the sweet. It is not the banquet table of the wicked that dulls our appetite for God, but rather the endless nibbling at those things that become substitutes for God. The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not the poison of evil, but the simple pleasures of earth. For when those replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable. They become deadly substitutes, functional idols, if you will. Places and things we turn to in order to find comfort and help with the burdens and challenges of life.

Anything can stand in the way of true discipleship. Not just evil, and not just food. So it should not be surprising that the greatest competitors for our devotion and affection for God would be some of his most precious gifts. This is why fasting and abstinence of the good gifts of God is likely to be more beneficial than using the practice during the Lenten season to break some bad habit.

Christian fasting and abstinence is a test to see what desires control us. What are our bottom line passions? In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes, “More than any other spiritual discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what inside of us with food and other things.”

When our souls are stuffed with small things of life, there is little if any room for the great things of God. The pain and the emptiness we feel that is created by loss reveals how we have stuffed ourselves with substitutes. That pain or loss teaches us important lessons and invites us to draw near to the bread of life and the living water that quenches our thirst.

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True Lenten Discipline

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My wife came across this through her campus email and passed it along. I regret that the copy she sent did not attribute this work to a particular author, but I wanted to pass this along to you for this season of Lent.

True Lenten Discipline

Fast from judging others;
Feast on Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from emphasis on differences;
Feast on the unity of all life.
Fast from apparent darkness;
Feast on the reality of all light.
Fast from thoughts of illness;
Feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute;
Feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent;
Feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger;
Feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism;
Feast on optimism.
Fast from worry;
Feast on God’s providence.
Fast from complaining;
Feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives;
Feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures;
Feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility;
Feast on non-resistance.
Fast from bitterness;
Feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern;
Feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety;
Feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragement;
Feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress;
Feast on verities that uplift.
Fast from lethargy;
Feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion;
Feast on truth.
Fast from thoughts that waken;
Feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from shadows of sorrow;
Feast on the sunlight of serenity.
Fast from idle gossip;
Feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm;
Feast on prayer that sustains.

Categories : Lent
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When the reluctant Moses stood at the burning bush (cf. Exodus 3) trying to wiggle out of God’s call to return to Egypt to emancipate the people of God, he asked God a remarkable question. “What is your name?” he inquired. That seems like an odd thing to ask. Did Moses not know God that well? Was he stalling? Or was he looking for something else? Names are important to us. I can remember the endless hours Lisa and I spent trying to pick the right name for each of our children. Names give a sense of permanence.

Names can also be descriptive. Bible characters have fascinating names, and more often than not, their names are a pretty good fit. Come to think of it, I’ve never known a blonde named “Rusty.” As I think about it though, I believe the most important thing about names is that they convey reality. A person’s name makes them tangible beings in our world. There’s a difference between “that guy” and “Tim.” Perhaps this is what Moses was looking for. Maybe he wanted to know if God was personal and tangible…vested in the world He created.

God’s response to Moses’ question? “I AM THAT I AM.” When God described himself as the “I AM,” He was letting Moses know that He was real, personal, tangible, and ever present. Not only that, He wanted Moses to know that He was fully self sufficient and without need. God needs nothing outside himself to exist.

There are seven times in the Gospel of John where Jesus referred to himself as “I AM.” This is not accidental or incidental. Jesus knew exactly what He was doing when He referred to Himself as the “I AM,” and so did His hearers. During these weeks that lead up to Easter, I’m going to preach a series of sermons on these seven statements from John. My goal is to convey that Jesus is the Jesus of our present reality, tangibly vested in our lives and completely able to satisfy the longings of our hearts. Last weekend our youth handled the first one where Jesus declared “I AM the light of the world” (John 8:12-20). Here is the rest of the series:

March 4: “I AM the Bread of Life” (John 6:35-40)
March 11: “I AM the Gate” (John 10:1-10)
March 18: “I AM the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11-18)
March 25: “I AM the True Vine” (John 15:1-7)
April 1: “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:1-14)
April 8: “I AM the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:17-27)

If you live in central Iowa, I’d like to invite you to join us for worship each Sunday at 9:30 am. If not, check in each week and you’ll find some reflections from each of these messages posted here at this site.

Categories : Gospel, Jesus, John, Lent, Moses
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Words to Live By from a Dying Man

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Here’s the new sermon series which launches this weekend at Ashworth Road. This series will offer words of hope uttered from our dying Savior on the cross. The first sermon is titled, A Word for Those Who Need Forgiveness and is taken from Luke 23:34. I hope you’ll join us for one of our services. For more information about service times or our location, visit http://www.ashworthroad.com/.