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Ash Wednesday and a Life of Worship

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart, and not your garments.

Joel 2:12-13a

This is a common Scripture reading for Ash Wednesday, the day that begins the season of Lent. Lent is a time to honestly assess our sins, to humble ourselves, to reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, and to re-focus on God. Many churches have additional worship opportunities during this season, in order to help people maintain this focus.

If we were honest with ourselves, and really understood how offensive our sin is to God, and realize that our sin was the reason Jesus had to suffer, it would bring us to tears, cause us to mourn, and maybe even cause us to fast – either by loss of appetite or by intentionally fasting to express our sorrow. Some people choose to fast from something (sugar, alcohol, tv, etc) during the 40 days of Lent.

God is not as much concerned with outward expressions of sorrow, like tearing one’s clothes (a common expression in Biblical times) or putting ashes on our forehead, like many do on Ash Wednesday. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but God’s primary concern is that we experience heartbreak over our sin, so that it leads us to repentance and a return to Him. So if you plan to fast from something during Lent, I hope it is something that helps you return, or draw nearer, to God. And perhaps you can add something in its place, like attending Lent worship services, or spending time in the Bible and prayer.

Over the last several months I’ve been lamenting the direction our country’s culture is heading, further and further away from God. I wrote a separate post about it (here), so I’ll just summarize it by saying that I believe the main problem is that the church – all Christians – in this country has failed to be salt and light in the culture.

Ash Wednesday is a great opportunity to start turning the tide, if God’s people, starting with me, will repent of our sins – of complacency, of neglecting our relationship with God, of neglecting worship, of neglecting His Word (or ignoring or changing parts of His Word to acquiesce to culture), of neglecting prayer, and of allowing disunity in the church (due to denominational or doctrinal differences, or worship styles, or other preferences).

Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Joel 2:13b

Worship and the Super Bowl

My family enjoys watching the Super Bowl. I love to watch the game, but for my wife and kids, I think they enjoy the commercials most. Plus, the game itself is not as much fun as the fact that we turn it into an event, complete with lots of yummy food, allowing them to stay up a little later than they would on a regular Sunday, and just hanging out together doing something fun as a family.

It got me to thinking, though, as we’ve been preparing to enjoy the Super Bowl this year, how in many different ways the experience of watching a sporting event like the Super Bowl compares to the experience of worship. Over the years I’ve heard sermons, or read articles or devotions that made this comparison, so I thought I’d share some insights. My prayer is that this exercise is at once light hearted as well as thought-provoking.

  1. The argument for not going to church. Some people say (or think) “I can be close to God in the privacy of my own home, by reading my Bible and praying.” Sure, I can watch at home by myself and enjoy the game.  But if I’m at the game, sharing the experience with thousands of others who are there for the same reason, my level of interest and involvement in the game rises dramatically.  I am much more likely to cheer louder, applaud, stand, etc. when spurred on by the crowd around me than if I were at home by myself or even with my family.  I think the parallel to church is clear: we will have a more meaningful interaction with God as we worship with others.

2. Why hold back in worship? While there are some who will sit quietly reserved through the Super Bowl, many (even in the privacy of their homes) will be led to exuberant expressions of ‘praise’ when the team they’re rooting for does something positive. There are those who believe that worship and praise must be reserved and dignified, in order to be reverent.  Certainly that is one way to worship God, and that may be what comes natural to you. But we learn in 2 Samuel 6:14-22 that that is not the only way.  If one is truly worshiping God with all one’s might, if it is done genuinely, then I would encourage the same exuberant expressions of praise that you would give your favorite team.

3. Excuses for not going to church. Admittedly, this one will be more relevant once the pandemic is behind us and it’s safe for everyone to attend worship without restrictions.

The following is a list published several years back in Moody Monthly,plus a few added by Chuck Swindoll, which illustrated various excuses folks might use for “quitting sports.”  Imagine if someone had the chance to attend the Super Bowl, but used any of these excuses not to go.

  • Every time I went to a game, they asked me for money.
  • The people with whom I have to sit don’t seem very friendly.
  • The seats are too hard and not comfortable.
  • The coach has never come to see me.
  • The referee will probably make a decision with which I could not agree.
  • I may be sitting with some hypocrites – who come only to see what others are wearing.
  • Sometimes games go into overtime, and I don’t want to be late getting home.
  • The band will played sons that I have never heard before.
  • The game is scheduled when I want to do other things.
  • My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.
  • Since I read a book on sports, I feel that I know more than the coaches anyhow.
  • I don’t want to take my children, because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.
  • The public address and lighting systems don’t suit me.
  • It’s always too hot (or too cold) in the stadium.
  • An usher offended me.
  • The parking lot was awful; I had to walk six blocks to the stadium.

What would happen if we approached worship with the same enthusiasm we give to the Super Bowl, or other sporting events?

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