Today is known as Ash Wednesday on the calendar and the beginning of Lent. Lent goes until Easter and is 46 days long. (Every day a new blog will be posted to the website at 12:15am.) Lent is known as a time of repentance, fasting or giving something up like a vice or a food item. One of the strange parts of this tradition, is the day before Ash Wednesday called, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday or Mardi Gras. This day is a day of eating before the fasting period of Lent begins. Mardi Gras is as one writer describes “a day of revelry that includes parades, parties and gastronomic indulgence before the Christian fasting season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. What began as a holiday rooted in religious tradition has become a cultural phenomenon, leading to parties for the sake of partying, and not necessarily in anticipation of 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.” Ash Wednesday is “a day of repentance, when Christians confess their sins and profess their devotion to God.” The idea is not to sin on Tuesday and confess on Wednesday. Many different denominations hold services on this day, which is why you may see people with ashes on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. The priest or minister will say “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Putting ash in the shape of a cross really isn’t what Jesus meant when He said, Luke 14:27 “whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” This is about total commitment to Jesus and not just during a ritual on the calendar. Christmas Easter Lent are not just days on a calendar that are repeated year after year but meant to happen any day of the year. Hebrews 3:12 “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” Don’t wait for a special day, this choice can be made any day. Deuteronomy 30:19 “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Joshua 24:15 “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” This is about choosing to be totally committed to Jesus. Jesus said in the verse before Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Yes, everyone is going to die and return to the earth, but not everyone is going to heaven. How you respond to those words repent and believe the gospel, will dictate heaven or hell as your eternal destination, so this is a much more serious matter than just putting ashes on your forehead. 

        Today is also Valentine’s Day, a day focused on love, flowers and chocolate. This year, Lent starts off with eating /revelry on Tuesday, Valentine’s chocolate on Wednesday and ends up with chocolate at Easter. Maybe giving up chocolate was why so much emphasis is placed on chocolate at Easter. Sadly, the easter bunny and easter eggs get more attention than the risen Savior. This love at Valentines could be as innocent as a young child in school giving out Valentines or a couple getting engaged or a couple who have loved each other for decades. Love could also be described as the love family has for one another and the love of a good friend. Human love is limited. Without God’s love, love just fades away, so it is important to make sure we have the love of God as our foundation and return our love to Him. 1 John 4:11 “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 19 We love because he first loved us.” Psalm 89:14 “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. 15 Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord. 16 They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness. 17 For you are their glory and strength, and by your favor you exalt our horn. 18 Indeed, our shield belongs to the Lord, our king to the Holy One of Israel.” Deuteronomy 6:5 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Peter said 1 Peter 1:3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” Psalm 1:1 “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. 3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.” 

        Our focus should be on God and serving Him wholeheartedly because John 3:16 “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Jesus said John 14:15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 23 Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” Then Jesus said John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. 9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.” Too many people are focused on the world and have not remained in Him. James 4:4 “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” As we talked about before, the church has a heart problem. Jesus said Mark 7:6 “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” The church needs to return to remaining in God’s love because the church has not returned that love. Proverbs 8:17 “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.” 

        Jesus laid down His life so we could be saved. In return we were supposed to lay down our lives for Him. Shortly after the Apostle Paul, the church started following other gospels and turned away from God’s word, thus rejecting the love Jesus showed us when He laid down His life for us. Our journey during these next forty days is about faith, so even though Ash Wednesday is a ritual on the calendar, those words, “repent and believe the gospel” are crucial for our present and eternal life. Our focus during these next forty days, plus the six Sundays will be about increasing our faith. When the man asked if Jesus could heal his son, Jesus. said, Mark 9:23 “‘If you can’?” “Everything is possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Most people have common everyday faith, but we need great faith and that comes when we believe God’s word.