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Happy Valentine’s Day to all the romantics out there! Have a LOVE-ly day! ❤

Lent starts on Valentine’s Day in 2018.

(Graphics credit: webdesignhot.com)

What follows are my past posts about February 14. The first is about the two Saints Valentine and the second discusses the traditions surrounding this day:

A bit of history about Valentine’s Day  (2015)

More history about Valentine’s Day (2016)

The third is about the totalitarian — secular and religious — rejection of love and romance:

Valentine’s Day ‘shameful’ to totalitarians (2017)

As we begin Lent, these past posts of mine explain why traditional Catholics and some Protestants, especially Anglicans and Lutherans, observe this 40-day season:

Ash Wednesday reflections

Lent, denominational differences and freedom in Christ

Ideas for Lent

Lutheran reflections for Lent

It is also worth noting that, centuries ago, Lent started earlier than it does now:

St Athanasius and the Lenten practices of the early Church

Lent in the early Church — not a pagan practice

Shrovetide — a history

The Sundays before Lent — an explanation

May those of us observing this season have a spiritually enriched Lent.

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Lent begins on March 1, 2017.

As Christians, we have the freedom to choose whether to observe this season of penitence in preparation for Easter.

Below are a few of my past posts on Lent.

Until the Reformation, Lenten spiritual disciplines were widely observed:

St Athanasius and the Lenten practices of the early Church

Lent in the early Church — not a pagan practice

These included fasting, which has changed considerably over the past 50 years. Fasting is biblical as long as we accompany it with regular prayer:

Ash Wednesday reflections

On publicised fasting and charity

If you can — fast

Gosh, the rules on Lenten ‘fasting’ really have changed

Here are a few reflections on and ideas for Lent to make it a spiritually-enriched 40 days:

Lent, denominational differences and freedom in Christ

Lutheran reflections for Lent

Caution on Lenten devotions

Why not read the Bible this Lent?

Bible study plan suggestions

The point of Lent is to bring us closer to Jesus and God the Father. Ideally, we should want to continue these devotions afterwards, as part of sanctification.

If we are making other people miserable in the process, then we need to take a step back and correct ourselves or try something different.

Have a grace-filled, prayerful Lent.

christogram-stained-glassFebruary 10 is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

What does this season mean? What does it involve? How do we use this season to prepare for Easter, the greatest feast in the Church?

Lutheran pastors show the way, with explanations about Lent in the early Church, including ashes and fasting:

Ash Wednesday reflections

Ash Wednesday: ‘No, that wasn’t dirt on my forehead’

St Athanasius and the Lenten practices of the early Church

Lent in the early Church — not a pagan practice

The last post about Lent not being a pagan practice refutes what an aberrant 19th century Free Church of Scotland minister Alexander Hislop wrote in his book The Two Babylons.

With regard to prayer and contemplation, I can highly recommend the Revd Joshua Scheer’s which you can follow every day:

Lutheran reflections for Lent

An Anglican pastor’s wife, Anne Kennedy, shared her thoughts on why Lent is an excellent time for addressing one’s spiritual state:

Thoughts as we enter Lent 2014

The Reformed and the Evangelicals are right to say that Christians should not feel obliged to treat Lent differently than any other time of the year. That means we should always be contemplating the state of our souls and repentance — turning away — from sin. In any event, we have the freedom in Christ to choose whether to observe Lent with special spiritual disciplines. See ‘Lent a source of Protestant contention’ in the next post where a lively written discussion takes place between a Reformed pastor-professor and Lutheran laymen:

Lent, denominational differences and freedom in Christ

Lent is an ideal time to begin reading the Bible, always profitable to body and soul:

Why not read the Bible this Lent?

Bible study plan suggestions

Some will ask, ‘What is the point when we only revert to our old ways afterwards?’

After 40 days, a new behaviour or spiritual discipline — more prayer! — should be part of us, enabling another step or two on the lifelong road to sanctification. We can then continue to build on that the rest of the year and when Lent rolls around next year, work on the next knotty and stubborn part of our sinfulness.

Lent is a great time to build layer and layer of sanctification, accomplished only with divine grace through our only Mediator and Advocate Christ Jesus.

For Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent which ends the evening of Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.

The concept of Lent offends a number of Protestants who say that every day should be considered one of repentance. Others add that this is an extra-biblical or pagan practice, something many believers have gleaned from the Free Church of Scotland minister Alexander Hislop‘s book The Two Babylons.

I explored — and refuted — those claims last year, thanks to information from a Lutheran pastor, the Revd Joseph Abrahamson, who wrote an excellent post in 2014 on the topic for Steadfast Lutherans.

In ‘Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Ash Wednesday and Lent’ Abrahamson tells us that St Athanasius — and other doctors of the Church before him — took Lenten disciplines seriously in the earliest days of Christianity.

Pastor Abrahamson cites St Athanasius’s text from the fourth century (emphases mine below):

6. The beginning of the fast of forty days is on the fifth of Phamenoth (Mar. 1); and when, as I have said, we have first been purified and prepared by those days, we begin the holy week of the great Easter on the tenth of Pharmuthi (Apr. 5), in which, my beloved brethren, we should use more prolonged prayers, and fastings, and watchings, that we may be enabled to anoint our lintels with precious blood, and to escape the destroyer4021. Let us rest then, on the fifteenth of the month Pharmuthi (Apr. 10), for on the evening of that Saturday we hear the angels’ message, ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is risen4022.’ Immediately afterwards that great Sunday receives us, I mean on the sixteenth of the same month Pharmuthi (April 11), on which our Lord having risen, gave us peace towards our neighbours. When then we have kept the feast according to His will, let us add from that first day in the holy week, the seven weeks of Pentecost, and as we then receive the grace of the Spirit, let us at all times give thanks to the Lord; through Whom to the Father be glory and dominion, in the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.

Below are excerpts from Abrahamson’s post, which sheds more light on the subject of Lenten practice.

First, legalism:

The ancient Church recognized that it was free from legalistic obligations, both from the Old Testament Law, and from new invented laws of men.  St. Paul wrote about this in Colossians 2. They also knew from Scripture that they were not to use this liberty as an excuse for sin. (Romans 6) They knew that they were not to let their consciences be bound by new human regulations as if their salvation depended upon them. (Galatians 1-2) Whatever was beneficial for the teaching of God’s word and for the practice of the Christian life-consisting of repentance and forgiveness in the Means of Grace-was encouraged.

That said:

No human can require a Christian to use the fast of Lent as a saving work. A congregation can recommend the practice as a serious self-examination of one’s own sin and sinful appetites; of one’s own weaknesses. No human can require Christians to use ash on Ash Wednesday or any other day as a way of proving their faith.

And neither can any human forbid the use of the Lenten fast or the use of ashes either. Both are legalism, a replacing of the Gospel for a new law. The whole point of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Fast is to look on ourselves as worthless and utterly needy: to look only upon Christ, to celebrate His feast in the Lord’s Supper, preach His passion and death upon the cross, and proclaim the Resurrection of Christ as the final seal upon our salvation.

Secondly, the near-universal consideration of Lent as a time of penitence, fasting and prayer:

We learn from this [Athanasius’s text] that even at the time the Nicene Creed was written, at the time Constantine the Great ruled, the Western and Eastern Churches practiced a voluntary fast for 40 days before Easter.

That this was practiced in Rome and elsewhere is seen in St. Athanasius’ letter from the year 340 A.D. when he returns from a meeting of pastors/bishops from all around the world, and he encourages his own congregations to continue in the same practice of the 40 day Lenten fast as does “the rest of the whole world.”

Thirdly, Abrahmson gives us several scriptural references concerning the use of ashes: 2 Samuel 13:19Esther 4:1, Job 2:8, Isaiah 58:5, Jeremiah 6:26, Daniel 9:3, Jonah 3:6 and Luke 10:13. Therefore:

The practice of believers using ashes to represent sorrow and repentance is well testified in the Bible.

Fourthly, an explanation of how the days of Lent are calculated:

In order to count the 40 days of Lent the Sundays of that season are not counted as part of the fast. Rather the Sundays are each a minor feast day. If you add the six feast Sundays to the 40 fast days you get 46 days. That means that the first day of the Fast of Lent is a Wednesday, just as Athanasius explained.

From an Episcopalian perspective, Anne Kennedy — wife of the Revd Matt Kennedy — gave a good précis of the Episcopal / Anglican reasons for using Lent as a special time to progress in sanctification. I posted on her reflections last year. Mrs Kennedy took for her text Psalm 32, which includes these verses:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

She writes, in part:

This strikes me as a perfect entrance into a Lenten season of repentance and self examination. The gift of God’s forgiveness to the one who turns in sorrow for sin is the beginning point. It is the moment of greatest blessing. Many things come after it—love, grace, maturity, knowledge, enlightening of the heart and mind—but none of them can be had in their fullness without repentance, without turning around and walking towards God rather than away from him. And yet this beginning step is usually always the hardest, whether it is a first time repentance, or one of the many many times of contrition the Christian faces …

Certainly, we can accomplish nothing without divine grace. Therefore, we pray for more of it, particularly during this time.

It is also to be hoped that the discipline we undertake during these 40 days becomes an inherent part of us so that we may then progress to another stage of sanctification afterward.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/06/Two-babylons.jpg/220px-Two-babylons.jpgThe Lutheran pastor, the Revd Joseph Abrahamson, recently wrote a post for Steadfast Lutherans on the history of Lent, ‘Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Ash Wednesday and Lent’.

Excerpts follow — please be sure to read Pastor Abrahamson’s well-researched post in full. Emphases mine below.

First, Abrahamson takes issue with those, past and present, who paint Lent as a pagan tradition. This started in the 19th century with the Free Church of Scotland minister Alexander Hislop‘s book The Two Babylons and, perhaps paradoxically, continues today with New Age followers:

There are two aspects of Ash Wednesday and Lent that need to be emphasized. First is the historical nature of the forty days of Lent; the second is the use of ash on Ash Wednesday.

To put it plainly: the claim that Ash Wednesday and Lent are based on pagan origins is a relatively new fiction that comes out of several different sources.

First is the irresponsible work of Alexander Hislop and those who followed him; both those who claim to be Christian and those who oppose Christianity.

Second is the neo-pagan movement today that falsely imagines that paganism is the most ancient of religions and rejects the Bible totally. But, in fact, Lent and Ash Wednesday have no origins in paganism.

You will find all kinds of websites on the Internet that claim that Ash Wednesday and Lent are not Biblical because Christ never commanded them.

In part this is true. And Satan likes to use truth to give credibility to his lies.

Abrahamson explains:

The false logic is this: If Christ didn’t specifically command us to do something, then it is a sin to do it. So, think about how little sense that logic makes. Take this example: Christ did not command that I have my children wash dishes. Is it therefore a sin to have them do so? No.

That said:

No human can require a Christian to use the fast of Lent as a saving work. A congregation can recommend the practice as a serious self-examination of one’s own sin and sinful appetites; of one’s own weaknesses. No human can require Christians to use ash on Ash Wednesday or any other day as a way of proving their faith.

And neither can any human forbid the use of the Lenten fast or the use of ashes either. Both are legalism, a replacing of the Gospel for a new law.

Abrahamson tells us that Lenten observance began with St Athanasius — of the Athanasian creed. The bishop — from Alexandria, Egypt — also led at the Council of Nicaea in a condemnation of the heresy of Arianism. Athanasius encouraged his congregations to observe Lent; documentation from 331 and 340 AD affirms this.

Abrahamson continues:

We learn from this that even at the time the Nicene Creed was written, at the time Constantine the Great ruled, the Western and Eastern Churches practiced a voluntary fast for 40 days before Easter.

As for Hislop,

The 40 day fast does not come from the so-called “weeping of Tammuz” as claimed by the radical anti-Roman Catholic writer Alexander Hislop in his book The Two Babylons. Hislop made up myths and connections out of thin air because of his hatred for Roman Catholicism. Hislop’s views were adopted whole cloth by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who continued to republish Hislop’s book until 1987. Hislop’s book was cited in 22 different issues of the Jehovah’s Witnesses periodical The Watchtower from 1950 to 1978, and several times in the 1980s. From 1989 the Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped referring to Hislop’s book, but they have kept Hislop’s teaching and use other sources.

Two basic facts: 1) The weeping for Tammuz was not a 40 day thing. That is Hislop’s fiction. 2) The month of Tammuz is 4 months after Easter. They aren’t even in the same time of year. ( From the The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature: Inana and Bilulu: an ulila to Inana: c.1.4.4 English Translation)

The pastor examines the many references in the Old Testament to wearing sackcloth and/or ashes as a form of penitence, among them 2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1, Job 2:8. He cites and explains several more.

Abrahamson makes an important point:

The ash on the forehead is a confession that the person is worth only ashes, has no righteousness, is not better than another, and needs God’s grace if there is to be any hope for him or her.

Can the symbol be abused? Yes, of course it can. But that does not make it a bad symbol. Every gift of God can be abused by sinful people. We should expect that because of sin.

However, the goal of the penitent in observing Lent concerns his awareness as being one in desperate need of God’s grace and Christ’s redemption.

And, no, regardless of what past Wee Frees or New Age pagans have written, Lent is purely Christian.

Stained glass cross StJcom St James Episcopal Fremont CA WindowSideDoor-smAs I write this, many in the world today will have celebrated some form of Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday — often including a dinner which features a sumptuous or high-calorie foodstuff.

The end of Epiphany and beginning of Lent traditionally occurred in Europe at a time when fat and flour stored over the winter were in danger of going rancid or wormy. It had to be consumed in order to avoid household waste. The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday became the perfect opportunity to do this. In France and the UK, this means eating crêpes. In other European countries, a dish which is fried, sautéed or high-calorie features prominently.

My Christianity / Apologetics page has a selection of articles about this time in the Church calendar. Here are a few:

Ash Wednesday reflections

Ash Wednesday: ‘No, that wasn’t dirt on my forehead’

Lent, denominational differences and freedom in Christ

Controversy continues today as to whether Protestants in particular should mark the Lenten period with a willing — not enforced — period of Christian devotion or activity.

Last year, Anne Kennedy — wife of the Revd Matt Kennedy — gave a good précis of the Episcopal / Anglican reasons for using Lent as a special time:

My psalm reading this morning just happened to be Psalm 32 which begins,

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

This strikes me as a perfect entrance into a Lenten season of repentance and self examination. The gift of God’s forgiveness to the one who turns in sorrow for sin is the beginning point. It is the moment of greatest blessing. Many things come after it—love, grace, maturity, knowledge, enlightening of the heart and mind—but none of them can be had in their fullness without repentance, without turning around and walking towards God rather than away from him. And yet this beginning step is usually always the hardest, whether it is a first time repentance, or one of the many many times of contrition the Christian faces …

I pray you will take the time in this blessed season of Lent to open yourself to Jesus and let him look at your whole heart, your whole mind, and allow him to adjust things according to his own plan and purpose. Blessed is the one whose transgression, whose sin is forgiven!

This isn’t to say that you and I are obliged to ‘do something’. No Christian has to ‘do’ anything during Lent — a topic which I’ll explore once again in tomorrow’s post.

A number of us have grown up with Lenten traditions, however, and look forward to a dedicated time of year when we can focus more on Christ, who gave His life for our sins. If we willingly decide to devote this to prayer or self-examination — and it is hoped that we carry this on after Lent ends as a means of sanctification — who is to say we cannot use this time productively in our Christian walk?

Luther Rose stained glass 2Yesterday, I featured a post on the Lutheran group Brothers of John the Steadfast. Their Steadfast Lutherans site is among those in my blogroll.

Pastor Karl Weber, a BJS member, has occasionally written posts about the significance of Ash Wednesday. Many people today do not understand the biblically historical imposition of ashes. For some, it’s ‘dirt on the forehead — wipe it off’. For others, it is an ostentatious — ergo, prideful — sign that one follows Christ. Today is Ash Wednesday, so perhaps some of my readers were targets of comments over the past few hours. I have been in the past.

Pastor Weber explained the imposition of ashes in his 2012 post (emphases mine, more at the link):

Greetings in Christ Jesus!

Ash Wednesday will soon be here. As in past years the imposition of ashes will be offered to those who so desire. In our age of Botox and our culture’s pursuit of perpetual youth ashes made in the sign of the holy cross + are a good reminder we are mortal; and in Christ that is ok; we will live.

Every now and then I am asked about the use of ashes in light of what the Holy Spirit says through St. Matthew.

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:16-17).

Regarding the use of ashes the key in the passage would be “… that their fasting may be seen by others” (16). That is, if one is interested in showing others their piety, he already has his reward. In fact, that’s what Pietism is. But Jesus’ remarks here ought not be construed as a proscription against any use of ashes, any more than “go to your room and shut the door” (Mt 6:6) could be taken to mean that we ought not worship and pray together in church.[1] …

The imposition of ashes upon the forehead reminds us of our sin and mortality as we enter the holy season of Lent. Ashes made in the sign of the cross proclaim that our hope is not in some medical breakthrough rivaling some fountain of youth.

The Scriptures frequently proclaim the use or imposition of ashes:

    • … daughter of my people, put on sackcloth, and roll in ashes… (Jer 6:26).
    • … and shout aloud over you and cry out bitterly. They cast dust on their heads and wallow in ashes;… (Eze 27:30).
    • The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes… (Jonah 3:6).

And then from Jesus himself:

  • Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes (Mt 11:21).

Though the imposition of ashes may be new to some people, much like making the sign of the cross + as Martin Luther encourages, or use of a crucifix, or even every Sunday Communion is new for some; it is Biblical and historically it is Lutheran.

But most importantly it’s helpful. When the ash mark sits on our forehead we feel marked because, well, we are marked. The ashes designate that we are real sinners and this is something the world refuses to hear. It’s embarrassing to go around town that way on Ash Wednesday, but that’s the point, isn’t it. And then, at the end of the day, do exactly what Jesus says: wash your face.

The prophet Ezekiel placed a mark upon the foreheads of the faithful in his day so that they lived (Eze 9:4). In addition to marking us as sinners, ashes made in the sign of the + cross proclaim that our hope and confidence rest in Christ the crucified who rose on the third day for the forgiveness of our sins. And because of this we live!

I hope that this helps to explain to believers and unbelievers alike why some Christians keep this reminder of sin and mortality on their foreheads throughout Ash Wednesday.

Another year and another time to intensively reflect on Christ as we prepare to commemorate His passion, death and — on Easter Day — resurrection from the dead.

On the last Sunday before Lent — Quinquagesima Sunday — the Revd Gregory Jackson of Ichabod gave the following sermon in his weekly video service.  He took for his texts Joel 2:12-19 and Matthew 6:16-21. It provides perfect reflections for and about this 40-day period leading up to the greatest feast in the Church calendar. (How many thought that was Christmas?)

Please take a few minutes to pop over and read the Bible readings and Dr Jackson’s sermon — followed by timeless Lutheran quotations — in full. People who are unfamiliar with Lenten practice will find it helpful and a source of reflection.

The passage from Joel contains a call to fast:

12Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:

 13And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.

Christ gives instructions in Matthew on how to fast — discreetly, so that others are unaware that you are doing it. We are not to make a big show:

16Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

 17But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;

 18That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

 19Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

 20But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

 21For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Emphases mine in the excerpts below:

The seasons of the church year developed through tradition, but they reflect the liturgy of true Judaism. Genuine Judaism is not another religion but the foundation and first proclamation of the Christian faith. All those who worshiped before the Incarnation had a chance to see the Christ in the Scriptures, from Genesis to the Psalms. Those who hear Judaism today also hear about Christ.

This lesson contrasts the works of man with the gifts of God. The first sentence is a humorous commentary on human behavior –

Matthew 6:16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Rare are those princely gifts which are donated in secret these days. Every clever university has categories of gifts, so someone can give in the measly category, the so-so category, and the Awesome category. Board members come from the Awesome list. It is a good way to network with others too, and to gain the respect of others.

17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

Jesus points out that people engaged in real fasting would hide the fact from others, since it should not be done to gain the admiration of the public. Those who gain their rewards from man will not get them from the Father in heaven.

That teaches the concept of good works based on the Gospel rather than the Law. The Scriptures urge good works, but not to earn God’s favor, not to placate Him. Good works are the fruit of the Gospel; they flow from faith. Many people do good works without thinking of it, since everything done in faith glorifies God. The baby who nurses or soils his diaper is glorifying God, since he has faith through Holy Baptism.

This should not be downplayed or disdained, since this lesson wants us to focus on God’s wisdom rather than man’s vanity. There is a constant struggle to avoid worldly wisdom and instead listen to the teaching of Holy Spirit in the Word …

But what the world loves, God despises. What God loves, the world despises. The ignored, forgotten minister in Mustard Flats, Kansas, faithfully teaching the Word, is far more important than the glorious hero of the media who is introducing his flock to various toxins, a little at a time.

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

These words of Jesus should bear down upon us each day, as Law to show us the temporary nature of material things, but as Gospel to remind us of what lasts.

Every single thing we own – owns us. If we really love one particular object, that object has a grip on us. There is nothing wrong with loving art, or clothes, or books, or any other delight God gives us. Jesus is not saying, “Give it all away, wear a long face, and be a monk.”

He is saying, “Do not pile up those things which are temporary anyway. The fact of corruption and theft is reason enough to look elsewhere.

20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

I had a favorite woolen shirt, which we stored in the apartment house’s storage room, a rather bizarre place full of antique furniture and boxes. When we got out our possessions, moths had eaten holes all through the wool, rendering it impossible to fix.

This metaphor is impossible to forget. Treasures in heaven do not share in three-way decay:

  1. Vermin cannot destroy them.
  2. Rust cannot consume them.
  3. Thieves cannot steal them.

These treasures are often mentioned in the Book of Concord … Below are many of the best quotations about the efficacy of the Word, which is openly rejected by many so-called Lutherans today.

The treasures are the Promises of God – not only justification by faith, forgiveness through Christ, but also all those blessings and comforting messages through the Word.

All the assurances of God’s love are treasures. Every passage that begins with “do not be afraid” also includes those reasons why we should not fear.

The passages about the cross are treasures too, because they are the truth of God’s order, the truth our Old Adam loathes. However, the New Creation (faith sparked by the efficacy of the Gospel) blesses the cross. The ultimate expression of the cross is a believer accepting death as a blessing. Uncle Roy, who served in WWII, told his hospital staff, “I don’t want any more treatment. I will be with Jesus soon.” And he died in peace, not in fear or doubt (unlike media heroes Paul Tillich and Pope Pius XII).

The Gospel that comforts us also brings out the worst in apostates. Unbelievers seldom care. There is no more certain mark of the apostate than a loathing and persecution of the Gospel. Since that happens within the visible church, the immediate effect is especially difficult to bear. But that is why it is called “The Cross” rather than “The Bother.”

In time, we see the apostates reacting against the cross as their blessing upon the pure Word of God. What they cannot comprehend (although they say the words at times) they do not want others to have … the apostate raves when someone teaches the Gospel. And no one does the holier-than-thou routine better than the apostate.

Chytraeus was one of the great genius theologians of the Lutheran Reformation, overlooked today. He said wisely that one proof of teaching the pure Word was “opposition.” So the cross is good.

Even family tensions are part of God’s plan, because questions make people study the Word, on both sides.

“Spirit and Word, or Word and Spirit are never separated.”

– Henry Eyster Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, Philadelphia: General Council Publication House, 1913, p. 271.   

Is it the office of the Word simply to afford directions that are to be followed in order to obtain salvation? It is more than a directory and guide to Christ. It does more than ‘give directions how to live.’ It brings and communicates the grace concerning which it instructs. It has an inherent and objective efficacy, derived from its divine institution and promise, and explained by the constant presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in and with it. Romans 1:16; John 6:63; 1 Peter 1:23; Matthew 4:4; Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12; Romans 10:5-10; Isaiah 55:10.”

– Henry Eyster Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, Philadelphia: General Council Publication House, 1913, p. 288.      Chapter Four.

“What testimony is given to the presence of the Holy Spirit in and with the Word? The words of Scripture are repeatedly cited as the words of the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:16, 28:25; Hebrew 3:7; Psalm 10:15.”

– Henry Eyster Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, Philadelphia: General Council Publication House, 1913, p. 288f.

“The New Testament is the inerrant record of the revelation of Jesus Christ in word and deed, and of the truths and principles proceeding, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, from that revelation. The Old Testament is in like manner an inerrant record, having the express and often repeated testimony and authority of Christ, of the preparatory and partial revelations made concerning Him before His coming. Hebrews 1:1.”

– Henry Eyster Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, Philadelphia: General Council Publication House, 1913, J-29 p. 3. Hebrews 1:1.

‘The more purely the Word of God is preached in a Church, and the nearer the preaching and doctrine comes to the norm of the Holy Scripture, the purer will be the Church; the further it recedes from the rule of the Word, the more impure and corrupt will be the Church.’ (Gerhard)”

– Henry Eyster Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, Philadelphia: General Council Publication House, 1913, p. 383f.

“Nor even does the efficacy of the Word depend upon man’s faith. Faith is always necessary to the reception of the efficacy, but not to its presence. There is no lack of efficacy in the medicine which is not taken by the patient. If his symptoms grow worse, he could not tell his physician that there was no efficacy in the prescription.”

– Henry Eyster Jacobs, Elements of Religion, Philadelphia, Board of Publication, General Council 1919 p. 154. 1 Thessalonians 2:13

So confident now should every preacher be, and not doubt, that possesses and preaches God’s Word, that he could even die for it, since it is worth life to us. Now there is no man so holy that he needs to die for the doctrine he has taught concerning himself. Therefore one concludes from this that the apostles had assurance from God that their Gospel was God’s Word. And here is is also proved that the Gospel is nothing else than the preaching of Christ.”

– Martin Luther, Commentary on Peter and Jude, ed. John N. Lenker, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1990, p. 245. 2 Peter 1:16-18.  

“Besides, it is an exceedingly effectual help against the devil, the world, and the flesh and all evil thoughts to be occupied with the Word of God, and to speak of it, and meditate upon it, so that the First Psalm declares those blessed who meditate upon the Law of God day and night. Undoubtedly, you will not start a stronger incense or other fumigation against the devil than by being engaged upon God’s commandments and words, and speaking, singing, or thinking of them. For this is indeed the true holy water and holy sign from which he flees, and by which he may be driven away.”

– The Large Catechism, Preface, #10, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, J-110 p. 570f.

To all my readers observing this short season, I pray that we keep a good Lent.

March 9, 2011 is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

Many of us will be devoting more of our time over the next 40 weekdays as well as the intervening Sundays, which are not officially part of Lent as they recall Jesus’s Resurrection, to intensive prayer and Bible study.

I purposely left out the word ‘meditation’, which has been distorted over time to become a mystical experience, thanks to New Age influences in the Church.

I noted the Lenten devotions going on in our vicinity.  Only one church — a Catholic parish — is offering (non-Alpha) Bible study.  The other congregations — Catholic and Protestant (Anglicans and Non-conformists) — are offering silent prayer mornings, talks on contemplative practices and the ‘unity’ of charismatic experiences.  I am certain that my local area is not alone in these offerings.

Please avoid contemplative prayer, Ignatian Spiritual techniques, lectio divina, Alpha and charismatic spirituality.  Those experiences enhance only US — they offer nothing to the glory of God and nothing concerning the remembrance of His Son Jesus Christ’s propitiation on the Cross.  In fact, these practices and courses are nothing more than churchy New Age experiences. They promulgate the Christ-denying ‘offence of the Cross’ and ignore His glorious Resurrection! Those who deny God and His Son would do well to prepare themselves for the consequences of eternal torment.

If you want to know the people and beliefs behind this worldwide movement, please take a few minutes to read my post from October 10, 2010, ‘Rick Warren’s Global Network’. Let’s avoid these ‘prayerful’, ‘glorifying’, ‘godly’ personalities and practices.

Instead, why not pray and read the Bible, reflecting on each lesson read?  We can build on our Lenten disciplines to retain them one year into the next. With God’s grace it can be done — without mantras, trances or relativism!

The more we pray as well as study Scripture and doctrine, the easier it is for us to maintain these disciplines.  I cannot say any plainer than that.  (That was one of the main reasons I ran a series on the Book of Revelation and on John Gresham Machen‘s Christianity and Liberalism before Lent, so that they might add to our discernment.)

Staying close to Scripture, to our only Mediator and Advocate Jesus Christ and to the discerning gifts of the Holy Spirit will maintain our steady path to God.

Keep a good Lent.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life1 John 5:13 (ESV)

Since I started this blog exactly 11 months ago, I have begun to read the Bible.  Recall that I have been coming out of a postmodern worldview which suggested that the Bible was a mere guideline, an advisory.  Yes, it is the Word, but that was all a long time ago.

Thanks to good commentary and exegesis from orthodox scholarship on the Bible as well as fine posts on various verses from blogs (see Blogroll), every day has a ‘wow’ factor to it.  I can’t put it straighter than that.  Therefore, if you haven’t dipped into God’s Holy Word for some time, I commend it to you beginning today, Ash Wednesday.

Now I wish I had started sooner.  Then again, better late than never.  What can I say to those who think that we don’t need to heed the lessons the Bible gives us?  It is our guidance for life, not only here today but as preparation for the life to come, which, most assuredly, will come to each of us one day.  Those who say it’s outmoded still always have their favourite verses. They only object to the verses that don’t fit in with today’s world. Those who truly believe what it says have fewer doubts and are able to cope with the downturns that life inevitably brings.  They can recall specific verses which set their expectations, if you will, and point them in the right direction whilst giving them comfort and increasing their faith. 

And a word about fasting, too.  When you’re at home, why not watch your food and drink intake this Lent?  Try not to buy your favourite snacks, or at least begin rationing yourself.  Meditate on Christ in the desert.  Obviously, if you’re working and, especially if you’re driving, you won’t be able to do this.  Yet, try at home to idolise food just a bit less.  Let’s walk in Christ’s footsteps a bit more fully. 

They used to tell us in Catholic school that we didn’t need to worry about fasting too much, that it was more important to be a good person and perhaps do a bit extra during Lent.  I agree with that, too, but as I get older, the fasting part — cutting back, at least — does have its merits today just as it did in the Early Church.  And that truly is something that comes to us from the Early Church in imitating Christ’s example.

In closing, what follows are excerpts from one of my favourite Lenten hymns, Lord, Who throughout These Forty Days, which you might recognise.  It encapsulates the notion of Lent.  You can read the lyrics in full here.   

Lord, who throughout these forty days
for us didst fast and pray,
teach us with thee to mourn our sins,
and close by thee to stay…

As thou didst hunger bear and thirst,
so teach us, gracious Lord,
to die to self, and chiefly live
by thy most holy word…

Abide with us, that so, this life
of suffering over-past,
an Easter of unending joy
we may attain at last!

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