Categories
52 Churches

How Does the Story End? (Visiting Church #48)

Today’s destination is next door to last week’s; they even share a common drive. We enter, sign the guest book, and head towards the music. Standing just outside the sanctuary, Candy sees an acquaintance, who invites us to sit with her and her husband.

This is the third time on our journey we’ve experienced this visitor-friendly gesture.

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

A self-supporting cross stands in the aisle. I wonder if it’s a regular fixture or something added for Lent. I appreciate the symbolism of a cross being at the center of the space and the focal point for all who enter.

Their pastor is out of town and the laity conducts the entire service, just as with our time at Church #29. I applaud their ability to fully lead a service on their own. The result is a low-key, comfortable feel, lacking any hint of pretense or performance.

A man gives some announcements and then asks for more. Several people stand in turn to share news. Candy’s friend use this time to introduce us to the crowd. It’s a nice gesture, and many murmur their welcome.

Today’s scripture reading, from Luke 13:1-9, follows the Revised Common Lectionary for the third Sunday in Lent. We sing another song in preparation for the sermon, which the bulletin calls “reflections.”

Our speaker reads her message, delivering her words in an effortless manner that is easy to hear. Referring to the fig tree in Jesus’ parable, she notes that “Christianity is a religion of second chances.” We don’t know what happened to the fig tree.

Did it eventually produce fruit or did the gardener uproot it? “The outcome is ours to choose”—both for this story and for ours.

[Read about Church #47 and Church #49, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #48.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

Ash Wednesday, Lent, and Fasting

This week, many in the Christian community will observe Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season known as Lent, a solemn journey towards Easter.

For some followers of Jesus, Ash Wednesday is little more than a notation on their calendar, whereas, for others, it is a meaningful spiritual holiday. For them, it signals the beginning of a time of giving up something for Lent. This has always puzzled me.

If what is being given up is a bad trait, practice, or characteristic, then why wait for Ash Wednesday to alter our behavior? (See my post on making New Year’s Resolutions.)

And if what is being given up is a beneficial or enjoyable practice, why suffer without it? Though I do acknowledge that this can be for the same reason that we fast; fasting is a mystery to me, albeit a beautiful one. Giving up something for Lent can have a parallel significance.

However, what bothers me about Ash Wednesday is actually what precedes it. This goes by different names, such as Fat Tuesday, Carnival, or Mardi Gras, and is often characterized by gluttonous eating or revelry and debauchery.

It’s as if a time of holy reverence can rightly be preceded by unholy depravity. That seems akin to an alcoholic intentionally embarking on one last binge just before entering rehab.

Ash Wednesday is a beautiful kick-off to a season of deep reflection, ushering in a journey to Good Friday and then Easter. But that’s not an excuse to cut loose in the days prior to it.

What does Ash Wednesday and Lent mean to you?

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.