As I look up from my computer I see a woman in my coffice with a large gray cross smeared across the canvas of her forehead. I know today is Ash Wednesday the beginning of Lent…and yet I do a double take. The gesture of being marked with the cross with the symbol of repentance is quite counter cultural. We don’t usually see such private promises declared so boldly…even if we are aware of the Church calendar. 

When I was young, protestants didn’t do such things. Therefore this practice was foreign to me. Maybe it is to you too. I did a quick search of the Bible to the places where people “put on ashes.” I found some interesting snapshots.

2 Samuel 13 – This passage tells the horrific story of Tamar. She put on ashes after the abuse of her brother and the shame he forced her to carry.

Esther 4 – Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, rips his clothes and puts on ashes when he hears a date has been set for the genocide of his people – the Israelites.

Job 2 – After losing everything dear to him, Job sat among the ashes in his pain and grief scraping his wounds with broken pottery.

Jeremiah 6 – God commands the people through the prophet Jeremiah to put on ashes and prepare for His judgement of their wickedness.

Daniel 9 – Daniel put on ashes to confess their sins, intercede on behalf of the people and call on God to extend grace though they deserved punishment.

The ashes are a symbol of the stench of man’s sinfulness and the pain that it inflicts. They are also “a sign of humility before God, a symbol of mourning and sorrow at the death that sin brings into the world. It not only prefigures the mourning at the death of Jesus, but also places the worshipper in a position to realize the consequences of sin.” 1

The “putting on of ashes” is not a Catholic thing. It is not an emergent thing. It is not a pagan thing. It is something the people of God have been doing for generations. “Ash Wednesday is a somber day of reflection on what needs to change in our lives if we are to be fully Christian.” 2

I will be participating in an Ash Wednesday service in a few hours. Our community will step into the season of introspection, examination and repentance together. I hope that you will too.





Don’t Stop At Just Giving Something Up

Tomorrow begins the season of Lent, a time of fasting, prayer and generosity.


Most of us are familiar with the first component. It’s not uncommon to overhear dialogues about the sacrifice of chocolate, coffee, alcohol, and Facebook for the next month and a half. Krista checked in last week with hers and this afternoon my daughter tweeted, “Already know what I’m giving up for Lent.”

But I have a confession: It’s fat Tuesday and I still haven’t considered what God is asking me to give up. My temptation is to just pick something so I don’t look like a Philistine when someone loops me into a Lenten discussion.

Fortunately, even in my religious anxiety the Spirit is kind enough to remind me that giving up something is only the beginning. The fast is to create a hunger, a longing, or a tension that draws me into deeper awareness of and conversation with God. The point isn’t just to conquer our caffeine addiction or break the power that chocolate has on us or to stay off social media so we can be more productive. The goal is to become more intimate with God.

Some traditions don’t emphasize fasting at all during Lent. They encourage people to be generous with the poor, whether serving them personally or giving money to charitable organizations.

I would love to hear about your Lenten journey.

May we all go beyond just giving something up.



Sermon Series Re-cap

This entire school year we have been doing a sermon series on proclamation. Last fall through Advent we looked at what God proclaimed about himself through creation, encounters with people, and through the prophets. Now we are looking at what Jesus proclaimed through the lens of Mark’s gospel.

Below is a short summary and the conversation questions we’ve used:


1/6     Mark 1:1-15              “The Kingdom is Here”          

Jesus burst onto the scene with a single message, “The Kingdom is here and near and open to all who want to receive it.” He calls people then and now to turn from their former way of thinking and living to embrace a new way of thinking and living. In doing so, we no longer are the proclaimed to but become proclaimers. We move from recipients to presenters, spectators to participants, and receivers of the gospel to broadcasters of the good news.

  • Is he calling us to turn from sin, fruitlessness, or away of thinking to embrace something new that he has for us?


1/20   Mark 1:14-2:20         “Unlikely Recipients of the Good News”                                

In this section Mark records a series of stories that get Jesus in progressively more trouble with the religious leaders. The climactic vignette happens at a party where Jesus is eating and drinking with people of questionable character [and beyond]. He saw value and potential where the Pharisees only saw problems. In response to them Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus pointed out that doctors don’t become doctors just to hang out with doctors. And we know that lawyers don’t become lawyers just to hang out with lawyers. Therefore we don’t become followers of Jesus just to hang out with other followers of Jesus.

  • Who do I/we spend most of my/our time with?


1/27   Mark 2:18-3:6           “Fuel for a Proclamation People”                  

For generations God’s people have used spiritual disciplines, or practices to grow in intimacy with Him. This passage exposes a great irony. The great irony of this text is that the people who so diligently fasted in expectation that God was going to do something new, missed the new thing God was doing in the world. The Pharisees’ go-to practice got in the way. They also saw Sabbath as a required law that proves one’s devotion. Jesus proclaimed that Sabbath is a gift and people are more important than religious constructs.

  • What is your go-to spiritual practice? Has it become a rut that gets in the way of hearing from God and seeing what He’s doing?
  • What spiritual practice might he be leading you into?


2/3     Mark 4                        “Sowing and Shining”                                    

Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom by telling parables but the parables he used specifically to cause dissonance. He wanted to free their imaginations that had become captive by old forms. To the crowd the kingdom was like…a warrior going out to make war. The kingdom is like a king who overthrows the corrupt regime and takes his rightful place. The kingdom comes with swords and spears and pomp and circumstance. But Jesus said the Kingdom is like a farmer, soil, and seeds. His Kingdom is often quiet, overlooked, and subversive. We move forward in this Kingdom by:

  1. Clarifying the boarders of our field…(see the questions below)
  2. Faithfully praying for the people in our field…hard, the quick to respond, the ones who are easily distracted by the ‘cares of this world,’ and those who are ready to receive.
  3. Sowing God’s love consistently and generously.


Where do I live my life?

Think for a minute about where you live your life. It may be helpful to write out the physical parameters and names that come to mind during this exercise. Feel free to elaborate beyond my questions.

  • Where do I live my life vocationally – Where do I work? Who is there? Do I go out to lunch? Where can I be a regular? Are there support people connected to the place I work? Who do I (or can I) regularly interact with? What do I know about the interests and families of those I work with? What do they know about mine? How did we learn these things? Where do we have common ground with each other? What is the good news for them right now?
  • Where is our family life lived out – What are the names of my immediate neighbors next door and across the street? What do I know about them? What do they know about us? How would our neighbors describe us in relation to our role in the neighborhood? (ie “That’s the place where… or “Those are the people who….”) What word would you use to describe the ‘vibe’ of your street? What word do you wish described it? What are our kids involved in? Where do my kids go to school? What is our involvement? Is there a natural place to volunteer? Do I have skills they need? Who do we see regularly? Is there someone I can partner with? (ie classroom help, coaching, carpool) What is the good news right now for the people I live near?
  • Where do I live relationally – Where do my friends live? Where am I a regular? If I have an extra hour free to hang out, where do I go? Where do I get gas, shop, bank, and work out? Who is there? Do I notice the same people each time? Who are the other regulars? What are the appropriate conversations to have in those places? What is the good news right now for them?