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DAY 1: ASH WEDNESDAY – I had an interesting church up bringing. I can safely say it was not a typical journey, but it gave me an exposure to pretty much every variety of church there is. In one sense the variety of sources I had in my life that gave me my taste of christian culture made it so I wasn’t stuck in one stream. However it also forced me to think about things, dissect my faith, and seek Jesus outside the confines of wrote devotion.

My introduction to the practices of the Christian church started when I was little because my parents were both ministers. I remember one of the earlier churches my dad was an assistant pastor at sometime in the early 80’s. It was a messianic church which gave me a great backbone and context for the jewish culture in the Bible. I remember the times of dancing and singing the traditional oom-pah oom-pah tempo songs to celebrate purim and passover. There always seemed to be a festival for something, but it was later in the episcopal church that I would start to get my feet wet in the value of contemplation and lament.

Over the next 20 years, from my liturgical church in NY to the baptist church in PA; messianic temple in VA; The vineyard church in VA; The assembly of God church in PA; the evangelical church in MO; the independent church in OR… etc etc; I found myself steeped in what only could be called a baskin robins theology. 51 flavors and so hard to pick my favorites.

I’m not going to memory lane here in order to bore my readers. I’m doing it because as I look back on where I have come from I can see the hand of God in how he has refined my understanding of Him, rewritten the things I was dogmatic about, and restored my faith when often times religious duty tried to destroy it.

This brings me to lent. I’m writing DAY 1 here because today starts lent with Ash wednesday. I’d like to think I have the mental stamina to write every day a reflection for the next 39, but in case I don’t I’d like to demystify the journey to holy week… Because that is exactly what lent is. It’s a personal and community journey towards towards the Lord and away from… me.

Sure you could go google it, but you will get a sterile wikipedia definition and I would like to share my definition born out of the rubble of my triumphs and failures, my victories and my defeats.

Every year we would go to ash wednesday service, listen to a sermon on the fact we came from dust and to dust we will return and then proceed to the front to have the sign of the cross smeared on our foreheads. As a kid I felt so cool. I was part of the crew and just like my parents. We would go out for dinner afterwards at some cheap diner on long island and be proud to stand out in the crowd of ash-less people. 20 min. later I forgot the mark was even there because my bagel tasted so good. We would go home, I’d wash it off and then head to bed. The next morning I would wake up and it’s like ash wednesday never happened.

This was our pattern. I went through the motions and when I got old enough to understand why we did it, I still went through the motions. It’s not that I didn’t believe in Jesus. I DID, but I became desensitized to His truth.

Fast forward to this last year. It’s a year that has come out of a long season of trials, pain, joy, and miracles. I guess it can be best described as a roller coaster ride that I’m not sure I even remember getting on. Getting wounded by life teaches you how much the presence of God matters. As I get closer to Him looking for healing, I have learned so much about how addicted I have become… to me.

I have always loved the liturgy of the church. I love being connected to the ancient church in practice, but maybe it’s because I see myself in the disciples. They were such misfits. Dirtbags who seemed to be worthless and yet Jesus would look them in the eye and say how much He loved them.

He would tell the lepers, the doubters, the prostitutes, the prideful, the low and the high, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Matthew 16:24

…And I found myself this last week being met with the coming of Lent and ash wednesday once again, but with almost a new lens on it because I’m hearing jesus say “If you want to be with me then deny yourself… make your life about me and not you.”

Yes I know He also said “I will never leave you or forsake you”, but I think when He says “if you want to be with me…” He is asking us if we are willing to push through all of the debris of our life in order to just get a hand on his robe… Or do we value His presence less than we value our pride?

Today begins with ashes on the head. Ashes that were created from the palms of last years palm sunday. Because Yesterday’s triumphs pave the way for today’s humility. I find myself unashamed to be marked by Christ…although this year I’m less concerned about the mark on my forehead as I am the marks on my heart.

Luke 6:45 says “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.”

Have you noticed the garbage that we spew each day out of our mouths? We have to ask ourselves what is in our hearts then.

I have learned that my heart has been wounded, cut, and infected and so when I speak often times it is out of the abscess of my heart. This is what Lent is all about though. It’s a self-cleaning cycle. It’s a re-alignment to Jesus. It’s 40 days of deliberately laying down my will and letting go of my heart so that the only mark left on it is the imprint of God’s spirit.

There is a song by Daniel Bashta that encapsulates this well. He says

“Strip everything away till all I have is You
Undo the veils till all I see is You.
I will pursue You, I will pursue Your presence”

For me it’s not a matter of what thing I am going to give up this year in order to self-deny.
It’s more of a prayer to Jesus asking Him to reveal the things in life that I am not willing to give up. 

I want to head into holy week as I walk with Jesus over palm branches in the streets of Jerusalem, hike up Golgotha to where he was crucified, stand in the garden with mary with my mouth wide open as I see the “gardener”, watch as Thomas puts his hands into the resurrected Jesus’ hands, and sit on the beach with Peter and Jesus having breakfast as He restores the misfit who He said He would build His church on… with a fresh spirit and more thankful heart.

This is an opportunity to encounter God in fresh and new ways, ways that will challenge us, encourage us, and humble us. It’s a season of listening and inhaling the new mercy of God daily. A time of moving past sobriety and into recovery. A time to encourage each other, be Christ to each other and see the Christ-likeness in each other. To be the real us, where we can seek help and forgiveness, through repentance be made whole by God our healer, and let go of our orphan mentality by accepting we have been made to be heirs of the kingdom of heaven and Children of the Most High God.

I recognize all of that was painted with a broad brush, but I hope to share what God speaks to me periodically in the next few weeks in order to bring in more detail and color to the blank canvas that is Lent.

If His mercy is new every morning then receive it because today is a clean slate then let this first day of Lent be a step forward towards Jesus.