Tag Archives: Henri Nouwen

Worship Wednesday – Ash Wednesday – the 40-day Lenten Road to Easter

Blog - Lent - Ash Wednesday - from article by Jim DenisonPhoto Credit: Jennifer Balaska via en.wikipedia.org

[Adapted from the Archives]

“How often have I lived through these weeks without paying much attention to penance, fasting, and prayer? How often have I missed the spiritual fruits of the season without even being aware of it? But how can I ever really celebrate Easter without observing Lent? How can I rejoice fully in your Resurrection when I have avoided participating in your death? Yes, Lord, I have to die—with you, through you, and in you—and thus become ready to recognize you when you appear to me in your Resurrection. There is so much in me that needs to die: false attachments, greed and anger, impatience and stinginess…. I see clearly now how little I have died with you, really gone your way and been faithful to it. O Lord, make this Lenten season different from the other ones. Let me find you again. Amen.”Henri Nouwen  (From A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee, Orbis)

It wasn’t until I was six years old that church even came on my radar as a thing. My mom worked all the time in those days, and finally, after a last-resort divorce, she settled us into a different life of meager means and lavish love. It was in those days that we responded to an invitation to church from neighbors. A weary single mom and four eager children met the welcome care of a loving church. Our experience was small town Bible-Belt Baptist, and that set the foundation for my understanding of God. In fact, years later, when I signed up for a World Religions course as a college freshman, I thought it would be a survey course on Christianity.

[Even within the context of Christianity, I knew very little of its practice outside the realm of Southern evangelicalism.]

My first experience with Lent, for instance, was through a college friendship. One Wednesday long ago, I caught up with my best friend after she had disappeared from our usual daily routine. We met for lunch and she had this mysterious, ashen cross smudged on her forehead. I resisted the urge of just lovingly wiping it off for her, thinking she was unaware of it. Pointing it out instead, she taught me my first lessons on Lent – on repentance, fasting (sacrifice), the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ. All of that was gloriously real for me already, except for setting aside 40 days of resolve prior to the celebration of Easter.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust – Preparing for Ash Wednesday – Pastor Kirk Thorson

For years, I still didn’t take Lent very seriously and still don’t know quite how to (or if I should) incorporate it into my life…except that my thinking has changed. In this world gone mad, I am more convinced than ever that we as the Church need to stand together for the sake of the nations and for the glory of God. If in Lent, I can find elements that help me see God, and our corporate and personal need for Him, more clearly, then I want to integrate some measure of Lenten practice into my life.

Month-long fasting (one part of Lent) has never been a draw for me, as I was always completely sure it would be a fail. While we lived in North Africa, and especially in Egypt, fasting was very much a part of our Muslim and Christian neighbors’ lives. Even those Christians who were evangelical (from Coptic backgrounds) saw the importance of fasting. Their awareness of the evil of sin in the world and the need for drastic measures lined up solidly with Jesus’ own life and teaching on this.

As I write this, my penitent friend with the ash smeared on her forehead comes to mind again. Decades later, on this day, I’m sure, wherever she is, she has a new ashen cross applied. Reminding her of the sin in her own life that Christ paid for Himself with His death on the Cross.

[We like our foreheads clean, don’t we? Being reminded of the dark and dirty smudge of sin in our lives is not something we want to carry around with us publicly. Especially in this post-Christian world of ours. Even with the message of the Cross as the only response to that sin…it’s just too public, too culturally “in your face” so to speak.]

Many may see Lent as extra-Biblical and therefore unnecessary to add to our countdown to commemorating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For me, at least, it gives a bit narrower road to walk for forty days – examining our own frailty, our sin, and the brevity of life alongside the magnificent perfection of the life and love of a wholly surrendered Christ.

Ash Wednesday and Lent as Means of Grace – Ryan J. Pelton

Bible Gateway extends a free invitation to receive devotionals daily until Lent from A 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I’ll be going through that as part of my reading these 40 days until Easter.

Also for the past several years, during Lent, I have read Adrian Plass’ book The Unlocking – God’s Escape Plan for Frightened People. It was a gift from a good friend during our years living overseas. There’s a lot in this world that’s frightening these days. Yet God is still God and is at work in the midst of so much crazy. I believe Him at His word. Full stop. We have a role in dealing with what we see in the world. As Jesus told His disciples (Matthew 17:21), there is evil that we can only battle with prayer and fasting. This is a power unleashed in a true observance of Lent.Blog - Lent - Easter (3)

As we grieve so much death around us in these days, and as we look to Easter, I would like to close with a prayer from Adrian Plass’ book:

“Loving heavenly Father, I want to try to tackle this business of loving enemies. First of all I’m going to sit quietly here and go through a mental list of the folk who I would call my enemies. Help me to be really honest…I don’t want to leave anyone out….I’ve done it, Lord. There are rather a lot, and some of them I really hate. But You made it quite clear that You can’t forgive me if I don’t forgive them, so I’ll start the process, even if it takes a long time to mean it. Love them for me, Lord, and please accept my prayers for their welfare and safety. Soften my hard heart as the days go by, until I begin to see them through Your eyes. Thank You for forgiving me. Amen.”

For these forty-plus days before Easter, I will be reading A 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer; referring back to the book-marked portions of The Unlocking; reflecting on God and the goodness and wisdom He displays through Jesus’ life and teachingresisting (fasting from) those money- and time-stealers that distract me from larger issues; repenting of the sins of neglect and indifference; and remembering to pray and reach out to God and those around me as His vessel for His purposes among the nations.

May the days of Lent roll on naturally into the rest of our days…

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day Forever Marred by School Shooting – One Mom Reaches Out to Comfort – Deb Mills Writer

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day Forever Marred by School Shooting – One Mom Reaches Out to Comfort

Lent Resource Guide – Calvin Institute for Christian Worship

Evangelicals Embracing (and Rejecting) Lent by Trevin Wax

Worship Wednesday – From Bitterness to Brokenness – Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God

Blog - Bitterness or Brokenness - oldpathsjournalPhoto Credit: Old Paths Journal

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, outcry and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and tender-hearted to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:30-32

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:10-13, 17

Bitterness. It’s been described as a poison concocted for the one who wounded you but you are the one who drinks it.

We may have situations in our lives that are truly grievous and undeserved. We rail against those situations, and the persons who created them, and our hearts are altered…hardened. It’s not intentional at first – almost like the formation of a scab or a scar. If not recognized and repented of, bitterness becomes its own enemy in our lives.

Blog - Bitterness - Lee Strobel quote - azquotesPhoto Credit: AZ Quotes

I have seen the damage bitterness can cause in the lives of others…we all have. It’s frightening to watch it grow in someone we love. My older brother struggled with a lifetime of losses. His regret at his part of them was taken over by blaming others. I will be forever grateful that he did not die in that place, but began reckoning with his bitterness before he died.

It’s a dangerous place to find ourselves – that hardening of our hearts in response to grave injustices, deep losses, and dreams dashed. No matter what the cause – whether the hits we take are from enemy or friendly fire – bitterness will not only hurt us but those who love us the most…and our fellowship with God who loves us best.Blog - Bitterness and Brokenness - Henri Nouwen - quoteaddictsPhoto Credit: QuoteAddicts

John Piper has preached and written so much about anger and bitterness (see links below). Don’t miss his  piece on battling the unbelief of bitterness. Here are his 4 points (gleaned from Ephesians 4:30-32 :

  1. Believe that what the Great Physician says is good advice. If he says, “Put away anger,” don’t ignore the counsel. Put it in your mind and resolve to keep it.
  2. Believe that you are forgiven, and that being forgiven by an infinitely holy God is an awesome thing.
  3. Believe that vengeance belongs to God, that he will repay those who do wrong.
  4. Believe that God’s purpose in all your trials is to turn the cause of your anger for your good.

We have beautiful trees in our neighborhood and seedlings pop up across our yard. Dave pulls them up regularly. The hardest ones to get up, he says, are the oak seedlings. They quickly and seriously drive a woody root into the ground, extending beyond the taproot, holding onto the soil, as if with a vengeance. Blog - Bitterness - airpotPhoto Credit: Air-Pot

As beautiful as oak trees are, the image of that stubborn and strong root reminds me of bitterness. It spreads and takes firm hold.

The writer of Hebrews talks soberly about resisting a “root of bitterness”.

“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness, springing up, causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”Hebrews 12:14-15 (12:14-15). John Piper again gives “warning not to treat holiness lightly or to presume upon more grace…[a bitter person] defiles many and can lead to the experience of Esau who played fast and loose with his inheritance and could not repent in the end, and find life”.

As much as we might feel justified in nursing our bitterness, it is a treacherous thing…a terrifying thing for those who love the one struggling with it. Our souls may cry out for justice, and God will do justice. What He requires of His children is “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). We cannot, with His blessing, exact justice without both administering loving kindness and practicing humility. Whew….

To get out of the burden and yoke of bitterness, we must allow God to break our hearts toward Him and the situation…a brokenness that will penetrate the hardness of heart and restore us to ourselves.

Piper prescribes a practical way out of the grip of bitterness:

“By the work of the Holy Spirit, God defeats temptation (like the temptation to be angry and depressed that you are suffering) by awakening joy through belief in the word of God which is at work in us. And that word is most centrally the good news that Christ died for us so that all the promises of God are Yes in him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

By the Spirit, we trust the promises which bring joy which defeats temptation. And all the while we are praying!

So now let me illustrate how this works. It helps me to have an acronym called APTAT.”

  • A – I admit I can’t in myself do what needs to be done.
  • P – I pray for God’s help.
  • T – I trust a particular promise He has given.
  • A – I act to do whatever God is calling me to do.
  • T – I thank Him for His help when I am done.

Worship with me to Keith Green‘s rendition of Psalm 51:

Create in me a clean heart, oh God
And renew a right spirit within me
Create in me a clean heart, oh God
And renew a right spirit within me

Cast me not away from Thy presence, oh Lord
Take not Thy holy spirit from me
Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation
And renew a right spirit within me

[Repeat x 3]

Don’t give up on God. He doesn’t give up on us.

[One last thing – for anyone out there who read this thinking of someone else…we all have it in us to wound others, sowing the seeds of bitterness. In a callous casual word, in a decision made with wide ramifications, and an act of preference, exclusion, or judgment. Examining our own hearts is always wisdom. Confession when needed and repentance as widely as the offense requires…may be a Holy Spirit response. Peace.]

Bitterness or Brokenness – Tony Shirley

SermonsandSongs.Org – A. W. Tozer – The Root of Bitterness

7 Bible Verses to Help Overcome Bitterness – Crystal McDowell

YouTube Video – Bitterness and Forgiveness – John Piper

The Word of God Is at Work in You – John Piper – [the video above is a portion of this sermon transcript]

Top 10 Christian Songs About Forgiveness

How Christ Conquered Bitterness – John Piper

Why Can’t I Overcome My Bitterness and Anger? – John Piper

Fighting Bitterness – Interview with John Piper

YouTube Video – Donnie McClurkin: Create in Me a Clean Heart