Service of Prayer, Reflection, and Imposition of Ashes

Worship Spirit of the Living God
Worship Spirit of the Living God

Here are a few shots from our service last night. For me personally it was a physically and emotionally draining day, but a good one. I always like this particular service for the mere fact it starts a time of reflection and prayer, which moves our focus toward what’s really the greatest celebration of the year, Easter.

Last night was more about recognizing our own brokenness, our own mortality, and coming in a posture of humility to the Creator with our lives. It is still amazing to me how busy we get, how filled our schedules become, and in that business we often lose touch with the reason for our ultimate existence and why we do what we do.

Josh Agerton Reads from the Psalms
Josh Agerton Reads from the Psalms
Dustin Adams Playing Guitar
Dustin Adams Playing Guitar
Chandler Serves the Imposition of Ashes
Chandler Serves the Imposition of Ashes

Preparing for the Season of Lent

Maundy Thursday Chalkboard Prayer Vigil

A few weeks ago at my church we had what we call a Celebration Dinner, beginning a process of visioning for the future called Dream 2020. As we move through this visioning experience in 2013, we are asking people to begin this season with 40 days of prayer (and fasting), beginning with Ash Wednesday.

Prayer During Lent

Prayer, by its very nature, causes us to slow down and reveals our priorities. As a church, prayer is our declaration of dependence on God instead of ourselves. It is our response to grace, a corporate collective cry for God to move in the midst of our sin. Prayer is something that challenges our mind, which, by its very nature, is prone to wonder and daydream as we try to bring our hearts to the Lord. We lose focus in our 24/7-connected world and struggle to find consistency in prayer, but so did the disciples when Jesus took them into the garden to pray before His trial (Matthew 26:40).[1]

As with most things in life that challenge us, the results are also beyond our own imagination. As the disciples discovered, more could be accomplished through prayer than they had ever dreamed, and Jesus said we, through prayer, would do even greater things than He Himself had done (John 14:12-14).

Fasting During Lent

Fasting is another spiritual discipline discussed during lent, often in the context of giving up candy, television, or some other “extra” thing in our life. My experience with fasting generally didn’t even go that far, until one night I began to pray about fasting. Only through prayer was I led to a traditional fast, a weekly one that lasted an entire year. In that year God prepared and changed my heart for things I could never foresee happening in my life, and he can do the same for our church body. Some cannot participate in a traditional fast from food, and I know God understands that situation. But for those of us who can, I would challenge you to begin by praying about fasting.

Prayer and fasting together make a powerful bond, one stronger than prayer alone or fasting alone. When the disciples asked Jesus why they could not do what they expected could be done, Jesus’ response was this could only be done through prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:21). As you are challenged in this area I would encourage you to ask practical questions if you have any. Please feel free to contact me, I would be more than happy to discuss the specific practicalities of fasting with you.

Here are Some Practical Suggestions and Next Steps

First, over each of the next 40 days of Lent we will be posting a new prayer for Cornerstone’s future, which you can read here. We will be prayerfully asking how we can impact our community, our schools, lives in Uganda, and many other areas where Cornerstone can lead people to know and serve Jesus. We invite you to participate with Cornerstone in prayer each day, putting on the whole armor of God around Ephesians 6:18 twice a day, at 6:18am and 6:18pm.

Second, begin to prayerfully seek God’s guidance as it pertains to fasting in your life. If you have questions, please ask. If you are led to fast during Lent some practical things to ask yourself are why, when, and how. In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us the most practical advice on fasting in Matthew 6:16-18. You can start by reading this passage, and the whole sermon if possible from Matthew 5:2 to 7:27, then answer the why.

The why is often seen as an emptying of self and the filling of God, generally by means of abstaining from food and/or water. The when could be giving up lunch on Tuesdays during Lent, or food for 24 hours on Wednesdays. The how is different for each person, but is an important practical step to think about. How do you not eat and not call attention to yourself? Look at your schedule; it’s different for everyone.

As we prepare ourselves for this time of reflection through prayer and fasting let us remember our brokenness, and our need for a redeemer, which is Christ crucified for us.

[1] Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson and Eric Geiger, Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2012), 219-222. Concepts were developed on prayer using this section called “The Primacy of Prayer” from Creature of the Word. The authors’ dedication to their text is greatly appreciated and achknowledged here as originating from this section of their text. A good review of the book can be found in the interview The Church as Creature of the Word: A Conversation with Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger.

Ash Wednesday Breaking Routines with a Lenten Reader

It’s already that time of year, Lent is here. Today is Ash Wednesday (see also history), marking the beginning of the season of Lent, which then takes us to the Passion and into Easter. There are many things our church does that I really like and producing a Lenten Reader for the past few years is one of them. It is such a great tool, especially how we use it in our particular church, where it ties each day of the week to the message being taught on Sunday.

If your church doesn’t put out a Lenten Reader there are plenty of other options, YouVersion has two great Lenten Reader plans, Lent For Everyone and 40 Days of Lent. A Lenten reader is more than just a daily devotional, it is intended to be a meditation, a call, to pull us out of our daily routine and refocus our lives back to Christ and His sacrifice. Lent is more than a time of self-denial, it is a time we can use to get back to the spiritual disciplines like worship, confession, meditation, fasting, study, and prayer.

In our culture of busyness to excess, these disciplines become the most expendable. When time is short, these are either the first to go, or denied their proper place at all, and a Lenten Reader is a great way to pull ourselves back into the fold. Our American culture seems to have no problem celebrating the over indulgence of Fat-Tuesday, (see a great post by Beeson titled, Fat Tuesday And We’re Running Out of Options) but there is rarely a mention of the ashes of repentance on Wednesday. Ultimately, even though the world may not take notice, we do, and we look through this season of Lent, and the next 47 days, to celebrating the greatest event even known to history, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I AM Lenten Reader, Spoils :: Lent Day 6

Day 6 :: Friday, March 15, 2011, Working for Spoils

Read John 6.25-29. What are you working for that spoils? Practice confession by writing those pursuits here.

Contemplation Over Day 6

This is such a hard question to answer, it’s like trying to come up with a list of daily sins that you committed. I think everything I work on that doesn’t glorify God or doesn’t prove to have productive roots based in scripture is a pursuit that spoils. All or many are not things that are necessarily bad, they just don’t add to furthering my understanding of scripture or bearing fruit for the kingdom of God.

I think the key word here is spoils. I can’t look at the above without saying that the pursuit of doing the laundry spoils because it doesn’t further the kingdom. Doing our normal routine of chores and duties we have to do because we are alive may seem like they spoil, but they are more like the “toil” not the spoil.

Things that i would pick that are the biggest time suckers, which keep me from further developing a relationship with God are probably TV, Internet (mindless pursuits on the Internet, there are many good pursuits to be had), and perhaps things like football season and everything that seems to be necessary with that venue, and a host of other little things that rob time from my day one little minute at a time.

In this passage today, John 6:26, Jesus used those famous words “I tell you the truth”, 4 times in the discourse just within this particular discourse (John 6:26, 32, 47, and 53) to point out the importance of what he was about to say. in 6:26, as i wrote about yesterday (see I AM Lenten Reader Review, Bread of Life :: Lent Day 5) Jesus is rebuking the disciples for their intentions for materialistic gain, and their total lack of spiritual perception. (BKC p.235)

In v.27 Jesus tells us specifically not to work for those things that spoil, but to expand our work into working for things that don’t spoil, working for the eternal, for things that won’t spoil. This is not totally new but one thing I find significant is that Jesus specifically tells us in verse 27 to work for those things that last into eternity, “[work for] the food that endures to eternal life which the Son of Man will give to you”. (v.27 ESV)

What i find significant about this verse is that is says things we work for in this life will pass to our eternal life? Most commentaries say “spiritual food leads to eternal life” (BKC p.295), which is correct, but it doesn’t examine that the spiritual food (reading, studying, praying, bearing good fruit) will pass on to the eternal life. My knowledge of movies or who won last year’s NCAA tournament is probably not the most important spiritual food that endures to eternity, but what about knowledge learned through studying of the bible?

As I read on in v.28-29 it shows that the people were thinking that their salvation came from doing good works or being a good person (cf. Romans 10:2-4), but Jesus says no, there is only one way, to believe in the One whom God has sent.

I AM Lenten Reader, Bread of Life :: Lent Day 5

Today our reading comes from the common book of prayer. In case you are wondering why I am on day 5 and the reader is on day 6, I am just going by the traditional “40 days” of Lent, which does not include the Sunday’s of Lent. I did it this way because there is no reading for the day on that day, it’s in the service and I’m also not posting a blog post.

Day 5 :: Friday, March 14, 2011, Bread of Life

Gracious Father, Whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world:
Evermore give us this bread, that He may live in us, and we in Him;
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
(Book of Common Prayer)

Read John 6:1-15. In this passage, Jesus is providing for a physical necessity of the people who are following Him. Begin this week by worshiping God for His provision in your life.

Contemplation Over Day 5

It’s amazing how we look to Jesus for our physical needs when ultimately he was there for our spiritual eternity. Just a little bit farther down in John’s gospel, in John 6:26, Jesus says “I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves”, and often that is what we need from Jesus, to be fed and have our physical needs met. But once those physical needs are met, Jesus offers us so much more.

Living in the United States has given us what many in other countries do not have, a security in our daily physical needs, but it isn’t the government or an employer that provides us with those physical needs, even if we are trained by our culture today to think so. While it’s wonderful our physical needs for the most part are met, it doesn’t leave much room for God, nor do I think it gives us much of a reason to give God thanks for our daily needs.

Today I try to recognize that all of our physical and spiritual needs are fulfilled by God alone.

I AM Lenten Reader, Journaling :: Lent Day 4

Day 4 :: Friday, March 11, 2011, Journaling

Journaling has been a practice throughout the history of the church. Prophets, philosophers, theologians wrote down their thoughts as they sought to understand God and grow in their relationship with Him. Throughout scripture, God commanded people to write things down and keep a record of what He had done so that the coming generations would know what He had done.

Psalm 119:15-16 says, I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. Journaling is active meditation on the Word of God and what He is doing in your life.

When we make a practice of journaling, it not only allows us to remember what God has done in our life, but also gives us the opportunity to reflect upon what He has done. It reminds us of His faithfulness throughout our life and serves as a tool in the growth of our relationship with Him.

Journaling is a discipline, and it may take some time to get into a good habit. This reader is a tool for you to develop the practice of journaling. There is space throughout this book for you to write your thoughts, prayers, confessions and ideas.

Take time now to begin the practice of journaling.

Contemplation Over Day 4

Journaling is something I have tried to do for many years now, but it’s also something that takes effort, time, and discipline. Journaling is quite close to blogging so it’s something I talk about with people all the time and the biggest reason I hear why people don’t do this is (1) I have nothing to say anyone would want to read (or I just have nothing to say), and (2) I don’t have time to just sit and write. Both of those reasons are quite valid but I could probably make a pretty strong argument that neither of those reasons should keep you, or myself, from writing.

The first point is a misconception about journaling or blogging, and really the only difference between journaling and blogging is one is private and one is public. Even the most mundane points or details can and do become very interesting months down the road. One reason to write down your thoughts is to specifically go back after some time has passed and reflect on your own thoughts. You will be amazed at what details you found to be important enough to write down at the time. The only regret I have in my own journaling process (and it is a process to get into the habit of writing) is not writing more, and more often.

Besides the two points listed above, the words of the Lenten Reader today couldn’t be more accurate. For me, gradually over the years, writing down my questions and thoughts about my faith have become a wonderful way to better understand my own faith, and what God’s word has to say directly to me at any given point in time. Jonathan Edwards was a master at this, and I have learned quite a bit from Edwards on how to journal, but you don’t have to be Edwards to write.

Some suggestions I might make for getting started would be:

  • Start off slow, try to write a little each day
  • Write down raw thoughts and questions
  • Use whatever format is easiest and fastest (pen and paper or digital)
  • Don’t worry about grammar or spelling
  • Write for yourself, not filtered for what others might think

Journaling is certainly a slow, long, continuous process that takes effort to develop, but is so well worth the time it takes. I have been working on this habit for years and feel like I have only scratched the surface.

I AM Lenten Reader, Confession :: Lent Day 3

So today is day three of Lent and the topic is once again a hard-hitting subject. Today’s text was on the subject of confession. This is something we evangelicals want to leave up to the Catholics to do, but no where in the bible does it say this is not of the utmost importance in the life of every Christian. The text for today is as follows:

Day 3 :: Friday, March 11, 2011, Confession

Confession is the practice of owning up to our sin. When we confess our sin, we are agreeing with God about the gravity of sin and acknowledging that our sin has crippled our relationship with Him.

1 John 1:9 says, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. Not confessing our sins causes us to deceive ourselves into thinking we are right with God. But, when we come clean about our sin before God, He will always forgive us.

Confessing the sin in our lives not only restores our relationship with God, but also reminds us of our brokenness and shows to us the power of Christ’s sacrifice in covering our sin. We have been rescued from sin, and the practice of confession reveals to us the cost of our sin.

  1. Have you made the practice of confession a priority in your life?
  2. What sins have you been holding on to that you need to come clean to God about?

Begin the practice of confession in your life today.

Contemplation Over Day 3

I took a quick look at this day and thought what in the world am I going to write for this day on my blog (I am keeping two separate journals for Lent by the way). I think it’s human nature to look at another person’s sin, or wonder about another person’s sin, speaking of my own (see Luke 6:42 for one). When I am sitting in a service or listening to a sermon podcast and a pastor talks about the sin in his life, the first thing I think is, “I wonder what that sin is?, he’s such a ‘good’ person”.

That’s what I’m going to do here today. I’m reminded of Matthew 6:6 (when you pray, go into a room and shut the door) where we are taught how some prayer is private, and although some sins do need confession before the Church body, today’s reading talks about our need for daily confession before God. I do think confession largely lost in our evangelical churches today. We rarely talk about it on Sunday mornings.

I know in my own life God is constantly refining my heart’s desires. Every day is a battle that started a long time ago, one where God continues to remove the blackness of my heart to replace it with clean tissue. A huge part of that comes from acknowledging our sin, repentantly confessing that sin to God, and knowing, God will forgive us when we ask.

I AM Lenten Reader, Fasting :: Lent Day 2

After an incredible night of worship last night day 2 of our Lenten reader drops us right into the heart of God’s word. One thing Josh talked about last night was how we are human beings try to hide from God, starting from back in Genesis. Genesis 3:9-10 is a familiar story to most when Adam said to God “I was afraid… so I hid”. I became very clear to me, very quickly, that I would rather do this reader “in hiding”, but for whatever reason, I decided to do it like this on my blog, so I’m going to keep at it.

Don’t forget to check out Lee and Brian’s blog for updates as well. The text for today goes as follows:

Day 2 :: Thursday, March 10th 2011, Fasting

Fasting is more than just giving up chocolate, soda, or television; it is the practice of self-control. Fasting reveals our misplaced treasure and reroutes the longings of our heart. We deny our physical desires so we can feast on God and allow Him to fulfill those desires.

Throughout the Old Testament God commands the people of Israel to fast as a way to mourn for their sins. Joel 2:12-17 says, ‘Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’

When we deny our appetite for the things of this world, the depth of our humanity is unearthed, and our appetite for God is elevated, revealing the greatness of His glory. Fasting draws our attention away from the world and focuses it on God.

The practice of fasting can be intimidating, but there are different ways to fast:

  • Fasting from a certain food
  • Fasting from one meal a day or for one day a week
  • Fasting from a specific type of entertainment
  • Fasting from coffee, tea, or soda
  1. What do you need to fast from during this season of Lent?
  2. How will you replace your physical desire by feasting on God?

Contemplation over Day 2

What do you need to fast from during this season of Lent? These two questions are hard for me to answer, especially here on my blog for some reason since it is such a public venue I guess. If I had decided ahead of time, like many who observe Lent, what I was going to “give up” then this would be an easy question for me to answer. I could just put that down and go on to the next day. As I said above, after doing just the first day of this reader my first thoughts were, I think I’ll do this in my private journal, and answers to these two questions are probably why I thought that.

I did make the conscience decision not to “fast” from something specific until after I had finished the entire journal to better feel where I thought God wanted me to focus my attention. Because of the unknowns with Deborah’s doctors visits, there are days, like yesterday, when I just don’t feel like eating at all, but if I had to pick something right now I would say I need to fast from worry for the next 46 days. It sounds stupid to me to say I need to fast from a sin, but that is what’s forefront on my mind.

How will you replace your physical desire by feasting on God? For the sin of worry, this is an easier question to answer because worry is basically an unhealthy lack of faith in God that comes from Satan, so removing this element removes Satan and places God back in His rightful place. It’s never as easy as that but perhaps it should be. It’s amazing how it happens but when I have fasted in years prior I know when you remove one thing, something else takes it’s place. Hopefully God is what fills the voids when we remove something undesirable in our life.

I AM Lenten Reader, Introduction :: Lent Day 1

Today is the first day of Lent, and as discussed in my previous post The “I AM” Lenten Reader During This Season of Lent, I will be going through our Lenten Reader here on my blog each day. You can click the image above for the full page as shown in the reader, and if you would like the full pdf download please go to my writing section and download the file from the bottom of the page (we also have them for sale at Cornerstone if you haven’t picked up the paper copy yet).

Today’s reading comes from the 1979 edition of “Ash WednesdayBook of Common Prayer, specifically from the section entitled “Proper Liturgies for Special Days” (not the entire book). The Book of Common Prayer isn’t something that I was all that familiar with growing up, or even now, but this is a liturgical guide for an Ash Wednesday service of prayer and reflection. The text, in part, look like this (full pdf is above):

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

and the liturgy is concluded by the following prayer

If ashes are to be imposed, the Celebrant says the following prayer

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

There is of course nothing that says this is THE way to observe Ash Wednesday. Doctorates have been written on the importance or legalistic manner of the liturgy. Today, I welcome words and appreciate their deeper meaning for God’s people.

Scripture Readings

Old Testament Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, or Isaiah 58:1-12 :: Psalm 103
Epistle 2 Corinthians 5:20-212 Corinthians 1-6:10 :: Gospel Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

A few verses above struck a chord with me as I read through them. Isaiah 58:6-7, all of Psalm 103 is always incredible, and Matthew 6:1-6.

Isaiah 58:6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Contemplation Over Day 1

I love these verse above, especially Psalm 103. Psalm 103 is one of those writings you can find comfort and peace with throughout life, but then they move to Matthew 6:1-6, especially Matthew 6:1.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

This is something I try to guard my heart against every day. Ultimately we as people want to be patted on the back or given the approval by men, and that is something that not only Matthew speaks about here, but Jesus addresses throughout scripture. It is why he called out the Pharisees and others who were more interested in the praise of men than in the Glory of God. The existence of this blog itself is always a battle for me, as it was with my photography, seminary, and a host of other earthly endeavors. I know my purpose and reasons for writing, many are not that deep, but in the end, it is my hope that they will Glorify God, not for the praise of man, and not to become the legalistic “religious” person of our society today.

Social networking was basically born of this purpose and has thrived throughout the world today for the very “look at me” functionality of the technology. There are of course all kinds or fantastic uses for Facebook, Twitter, and all the others, but those too can find their way into our heart to become a narcissistic compulsion. I struggle with this continually, but I also know some of the unbelievable relationships that God has developed for me through (mainly Twitter) social networking. For now, if I were to abandon those healthy relationships for the sake of the technology, I would miss out on many blessings from fellow brothers. I pray my use of these technologies never becomes the answer to Matthew 6:1.

For another look or view at this season don’t forget to check out Lee Cadden and Brian Johnson’s blogs.

Ash Wednesday the Poem by T.S. Eliot

Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent is tomorrow and I came across this poem by T.S. Eliot called “Ash-Wednesday”, which is the first long poem written by T. S. Eliot after his conversion to Anglicanism (or the Church of England) in 1927. The entire poem was a big long for one blog post so I have made it available here in a pdf: Ash-Wednesday by T.S. Eliot if you want to read the entire poem. The full text can also be found at this website. I love how it ends:

Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

This is an interesting poem by T.S. Eliot. It straddles the line between secular and Christian poetry but opens the door for his later “Christian” poems. He shows the need for God, his lack of hope for everything in the world, and how “unworthy” we are when we come to God in our natural sinful state. A background reading of the book of Ezekiel would be a good idea prior to reading “Ash-Wednesday” as some who have analysed the poem far more than I have said it helps in a more full understanding of the poem.

I would love to hear how you or your church is observing Ash Wednesday and Lent this year. I’m looking forward to this time of reflection myself.