Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why Lent, Ash Wednesday, Mardi Gras or Carnival?

A season of getting things right with God

Over the centuries Since Christ was here a variety of practices developed and that is the nature of Lent, Ash Wednesday and Mardi Gras (Carnival).  There are varieties on the theme, but basically the high holy time in the Christian calendar is the day of resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  The days leading up to this holy day began to take on significance and it was thought good to prepare the hearts of Jesus’ followers for such a time.  

 How would they prepare? They would focus more on a right relationship with God through prayer.  They would focus less on the things of this life and fast or give up certain things they enjoyed.  They would get right with the ways of God and repent of their sins and then do things to prove their seriousness in repentance.  

 How long would they do this?  The Gospels tell of Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the desert, and the number stuck.  Counting backward from the Sunday of the Resurrection (Easter) forty days of fasting you get to…umm not quite.  Some traditions include 6 Sundays.  Sundays are non-fast days and are not included in the forty.  So, forty plus 6 Sundays we get 46 days before Easter.  Which places us on the calendar on a Wednesday.  

 This year that Wednesday is February 18.  It has the name Ash Wednesday because of a practice among some Christians of placing a cross made of ashes on the forehead.  The ashes are from the remains of palms used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration.   They are blessed and used to denote one is entering into the season of getting things right with God.  The person is to repent, confess and get things right on Wednesday and be marked by the cross made of ashes on the forehead to begin the journey to the cross and beyond to the resurrection.  It may be something like the “I Voted” stickers one receives after voting in an election.  It identifies you as one who participated in the system.  

 What happens before the beginning of Lent and Ash Wednesday?  Tuesday is the final day of Mardi Gras (Carnival, Fat Tuesday).  Fat Tuesday is the last big juicy meal before the fasting starts Wednesday.  It has become a huge party in New Orleans and in Rio, but in times past it was a celebration for good to come not a celebration of the flesh to run amok.  The whole period of Carnival celebrations ran from Epiphany (Celebrated January 6), the twelfth day of Christmas which is when the Wise Men came to see Jesus the King to Mardi Gras the day before Lent begins.  A special cake has been part of that festivity called the King Cake.  Inside this cake is a bean or a plastic baby representing the baby Jesus.  The one who has the King in their slice of cake is blessed and in some traditions is responsible for the cake the following year.  OK, did you get all that?

Feel free to enjoy such celebrations.  Joyous feasting and somber fasts have a place in our interactions with our God and others.  You can choose the time and place or go with traditions developed by others.  Getting closer to God, however, is 24/7.  Being real with God and dealing with any distancing from Him, sins or failures are things to be dealt with on the spot and at the time not collected for a special time of year.  These kinds of traditions can remind us to get closer to God if we have wandered.  Even a Mardi Gras party can be enjoyed without going to excess or into sin in order to receive grace the next day.  God invented fun.  His kind of fun comes with joy in the morning and not hangovers or negative consequences.  Happy Mardi Gras, and keep getting closer to God. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Re-Thinking Making Disciples

Sometimes called the great omission.  The Great Commission is the name given to Jesus’ instruction to make disciples. 

The idea of making disciples moves some believers to action, some to guilt, and some to passive aggressive tendencies.  When hearing that believers ought to make disciples the passive aggressive smiles and nods and goes about whatever they had intended in the first place just a little annoyed at having to hear it again.  The sensitive guilt feelers are likely to have a sting from agreeing that it should be done and that somehow they should participate, but that they aren’t doing it for whatever reason.  The actionable believers may be taking the Great Commission as a license to drive spiritual bulldozers across the people of all nations.  Maybe there is another way of looking at this word from Jesus in the last verses of the Gospel of Matthew.  

A disciple is a learner or a student.  Jesus is the Master.  He is the Mentor.  He is the Teacher.  Being a disciple of Jesus is the greatest of all relationships, of all educations, of all opportunities.  Jesus is the one who is hailed as He is born.  He is spoken of by God the Father as His Son in whom He was well pleased.  Jesus is the one who lived so well before men and God that He had to be falsely accused in order to have a charge leveled at Him.  Jesus carried the burden of all sin to the cross, and died asking for forgiveness for those who put Him there.  He rejected the tomb and death and was made alive again.  Jesus received the highest authority in heaven and earth.  And it is within His authority to tell His disciples to show their love for Him and for others by making more disciples.  Jesus wanted the best for people.  He always did good.  No other opportunity exists that is better than being Jesus’ disciple.  

To make disciples is not a burden to bear or a punishment to endure.  No, it is a privilege to enjoy.  Making disciples is not a program, but a life lived in love with Jesus and others.  It is my life or your life lived in step with Jesus that gains the Father’s approval.  A life of discipleship touches the lives of those around us.  Discipleship is not about how many we have in a ministry, but how much we love the Lord.  Here are a couple of verses which paint that picture. 

“Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.” John 14:21 (NLT)
 “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.”  Luke 14:26 (NLT)

Isn’t the God-honoring, love-centered approach to being Jesus’ disciple and making disciples something inspiring?  Getting hold of that and experiencing that can just get the juices flowing.  Everyone is invited to come to Jesus.  Anyone can follow Him and enjoy His rivers of living waters flowing from their souls.  Out of the flow the Holy Spirit works in us to make us more and more complete in Christ.  The overflow touches others.  We have the privilege at times to come alongside others and point them to the living God, to guide them in learning to walk with Jesus, to build them up in a fulfilled and abundant life in Jesus.  This may happen anywhere and with anyone.  It may be formal or informal.  It might be among our families or among our friends or in a church or community or at work or on a mission field in a faraway place.  It is life with Jesus lived.  It is the flowing river inside meeting the exercise of walking with Jesus in our bodies.  It is a river-walk. 
What does this look like in us?  We are told when we come to Jesus we are made new.  New creations like caterpillars to butterflies.  Sometimes we feel it and sometimes we don’t.  But God has done something.  A change we might notice is an interest in God and going His way rather than our own.  That may increase and decrease in our lives or even daily, but the more we move His way the more we will experience the fullness of life He tells us of.  As disciples we seek Him.  More of Him.  To learn.  To embrace. To trust.  To model.  To love.  The result?  Well, many things, but let’s look at joy as an example.  

Have you experienced depression?  Have you known anyone so down they seem to vacuum the room of good vibrations when they enter?  It happens.  But an element of change that is available for Jesus’ disciples is joy.  Yep, joy.  As the Holy Spirit produces fruit in a disciple joy will show up.  As the first century believers would face persecution they would go through tough times with joy.  This is how Dallas Willard describes joy: 

Those around them look at them and see that they are filled with joy. This joy is not a passing sensation of pleasure, but a pervasive and constant sense of well-being that is infused with hope because of the goodness of God. 

Whatever our problems and pressures of life are they have the potential of dragging us down.  As Jesus’ disciples we need not be dragged.  There is joy in the Lord.  This alone would shock people around us.  They would wonder if we had found a new drug or diet, but discovering that Jesus makes this kind of difference may lead people to ask what makes a difference in us.  And for those who may know the Lord, but have been stuck and not grown as disciples the joy they see may incline them to pursue the Lord anew.  It may cause them to ask what they can do to know Him better, to experience more of what God has to offer.  And then as we are engaged in those relationships we are making disciples.  As they follow us as we follow Christ we are making disciples.  It may be starting with helping a joyless person find joy in the Lord and then to the stars and beyond.  

There is so much more to say on this topic.  Being a disciple and making disciples is a big thing.  There are concepts to deal with and practical matters in how to get it done, but for now it is enough to think of the privilege of being one of Jesus’ own and that in His grace He might use us in the life of another.  It is a divine love embrace.  Enjoy the privilege.  Are you re-thinking making disciples?