Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What is Ash Wednesday and Lent?

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Ash,a symbol of repentance in the ancient world, is applied by the priest to forehead of the penitential participant heralding the start of the Lenten season. Lent is a forty (40) day period (immediately before Easter) devoted to fasting and mourning over ones sins. The forty day period is in imitation of Christ’s forty day wilderness temptation and suffering. Pinpointing a date for when Lent was first recognized is debated. Sometime around the 4th century seems to be the general consensus. So what could be so bad about a period of repentance and sorrowing over sin? What harm is there in participating in these ancient rituals?

To understand the danger one has to understand the teaching of the Roman Catholic church about penance. The idea of penance began with the Latin Vulgate (late 4th century latin translation) which wrongly translated the greek term “metanoia” as “penance” instead of the more appropriate term repentance. So instead of John the Baptist saying “repent” in Matt 3:2, he is quoted (translated) as saying “do penance” which is understood by a Roman Catholic to mean to do something good in order to make for something bad. The sacrament of penance requires that a Roman catholic confess his sin to a priest, who then grants pardon, which is conditioned upon the confessor doing something, some act to counteract the sin and procure God’s forgiveness. Biblical repentance however is not about “good deeds” or human effort, but a change of heart and a trusting in the cross work of Christ alone as sufficient payment for sin - the sole basis of God’s forgiveness. It was this very doctrine that got Martin Luther thinking and writing. The first three of his famous ninety five thesis deals with this very topic:

Thesis 1:
When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

Thesis 2:
The word cannot be properly understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, i.e. confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

Thesis 3:
Yet its meaning is not restricted to repentance in one's heart; for such repentance is null unless it produces outward signs in various mortifications of the flesh.

Luther clearly understood that no amount of good deeds (penance) will ever make up for sins committed. Genuine biblical repentance is about a genuine change of heart and a new, living, personal saving faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ that results in a changed life.

The fatal and damning theology behind such rituals as Lent is penance...do something good to make up for something done wrong. That is the essence of Roman Catholic theology - God gives grace, man cooperates with that grace by works and through those efforts secures God’s grace. The underlying message of Lent is that man can earn forgiveness and righteousness through pious, self-sacrificing efforts. And that message is opposite of the true biblical gospel which insists that faith alone saves apart from all and human merit.

Why We Don’t Recognize Ash Wednesday, Lent, etc...

“So why don’t you participate in Ash Wednesday and Lent?” In the past that question always made very uncomfortable. I guess partly because I didn’t know why I didn’t and partly because I felt as if I was giving the impression that I really didn’t take my Christian faith seriously. Usually the conversation ended there with my sincere friend somewhat baffled by my lack of devotion and me left in an uncomfortable defensive lurch.

If you haven't noticed, Lenten observance is an increasingly popular practice among protestant Christians of late. The form it takes is not the full blown ritual perfected by the Roman Catholic Church, but a less ritualized one that in essence is identical. The actual ritual of having ash applied to your forehead and observing certain dietary restrictions for 40 days prior to Easter, is replaced with calls for acts of self denial and personal sacrifice by contemporary evangelical voices. Just listen to K-Love and you will hear it piously pitched to the audience during this time of year.

So why don’t you participate in Lenten observances? Over the next couple days/week I want to explore some of the ritual and ceremonial practices of the old apostate Roman system and show Biblically why they are unnecessary and worse destructive to true faith.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Thank You.

Words fail to convey our deep and humble gratitude for the incredibly generous love gift presented to our family Sunday. While we were not expecting that kind of help, we are certainly grateful for it. The Lord knows each of our needs and graciously he has worked through you, his body, to faithfully provide for ours. Even greater than the gift itself is the outpouring of sincere love for us which is the most overwhelming part of receiving this gift. We have been treated far better than we deserve. Through this offering we have come to experience more fully the nature of God's unsolicited, undeserved, abundant and abounding, free (yet costly), grace given us in Jesus Christ. Through this grace gift both you and God's grace in Christ have become much more real and precious to us.

"Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be;
Let that grace now like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above."

Wendy Update

Yesterday (Mon, Feb 28) was Wendy’s appointment with her baby doctor in Tunkhannock. This was the first she had be able to see him since the delivery, for various reasons. He, along with the help of a general surgeon and a few x-rays, discovered that she has a partially block bowel. Given all that it could have been, that was the best possible diagnosis! Apparently one 1/2 of our digestive system, specifically our large and small intestines, should contain liquid (left side - I think), and the other 1/2 should contain mainly solids (right side). Her problem is that the opposite is true, where there should be liquid there is solid, and vice versa - thus the problem. This problem is probably due to the effects of surgery coupled with the heavy doses of antibiotics she received for the stomach abscesses which killed the needed functioning bacteria in the bowels. Sooo, all that to say, she is feeling much better today. The pain has greatly decreased, her stomach is not nearly as bloated nor as tender to the touch. We are probably as much relieved in mind as body as well. Hopefully there is not something else wrong in her body which has precipitated this problem. Time will tell. Thank you all for your prayers and help during these past few weeks! We really could not have done it without your help and prayer. The Rusts.

Progress Report...

As you can probably tell from the photos, Lilly is faring very well! She weighs in at a whole 5lbs, just about 2 more than when she was born. Her routine is quite routine, right now it's just eat, sleep, eat, sleep. She is still on a monitor and will be for at least several more weeks. We have been told that they will typically keep the monitor on until at least 40 weeks. Though at times it is a nuisance, it is also a comfort as we don't have the typical breathing fears related to newborns. So in one way we sleep a bit more soundly when everything works as it should with the monitor, which is not always the case. Over all Lilly is doing just what she ought to be doing. Considering all the many and varied complication that could have happened, we are very grateful for all the growth and progress she has made to this point. The Lord has surely been with us. Thank you for all your prayers in her behalf! The Rusts