Wednesday, February 25, 2009

FEBRUARY 25, 2009 Ash Wednesday

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father , who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Mt. 6:16-18
Calvin: At that time the superstitious observance of Lent had prevailed everywhere, because the common people thought that in it they were doing some exceptional service to God, and the pastors commended it as a holy imitation of Christ. On the contrary, it is plain that Christ did not fast to set an example for others, but to prove, in so beginning to proclaim the gospel, that it was no human doctrine but actually one sent from
heaven [ Matthew 4:2]. And the marvel is that such sheer hallucination (which is refuted so often and with such clear arguments) could creep upon men of keen judgment. (IV.12.20)

On this beginning of Lent it is important to recognize what Calvin was doing. He was speaking against the external show of piety without the heart. Calvin was not against Lent per se, but against the superstitious observance of Lent. Calvin was against the external fasting involved with the catholic observance of Lent, but was not against the idea of repentance. Zwingli in Zurich particularly despised the catholic meat eating regulations as being unbiblical. Calvin was not as boisterous as Zwingli, but he guarded against religious show, choosing instead simplicity.
So Calvinists in general today observe Lent, but emphasizing repentance and not fasting or external show. Calvin, by the way, was not against fasting. He said, “whenever men are to pray to God concerning any great matter, it would be expedient to appoint fasting with prayer” (IV.12.16). Calvin appeared to believe that fasting helps us to focus and persevere in prayer, and he sees it as a biblical practice. He points out, “if either pestilence, or famine, or war begins to rage, or if any disaster seems to threaten any district and people—then also it is the duty of the pastors to urge the church to fasting.” He also points out that Joel 2 calls the people to weeping, fasting, sackcloth and ashes.” But he also cautioned that the people are called to “rend their hearts and not their garments” (Joel 2).
If ever there was a time for crying out to God and for repentance for our country, it is now. We have been humbled. In our humility, I hope we will seek God and not desert Him. In the last ten years we have been unbelievably blessed with wealth. At the same time, there has been a dramatic forsaking of God- with believers (according to going from 86% to 75% (an 11% drop in ten years!). Leaders in the church rationalize this away saying it was jus a loss of nominal believers. That is almost like saying "'Peace, Peace' when there is no peace." It is time to come back to God, and Lent is a great opportunity to do so.

PRAYER: Lord, as Lent begins, help us to have our hearts right with you. Show us how we might deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow you. Teach us how to draw closer to you through prayer and repentance.

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