Lent and Fasting

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day in the 40-day season of Lent before Easter.

Here are excerpts from this excellent Ash Wednesday sermon by Toby Sumpter.

"If the season of Lent is an annual, concentrated reminder of the call of discipleship, the call to follow Jesus, then Lent is dangerous.
"Lent is dangerous because there is historical controversy associated with it. While it had been celebrated for over a thousand years by the time of Calvin, there was so much superstition associated with it that he counseled against keeping Lent. Lent is dangerous because there are a number of ways to celebrate it badly: morbid introspection, conjuring up vague guilt and feeling holy for it, prideful abstaining from food and drink, looking down on those who don’t celebrate. False humility is as easy as lighting a dead Christmas tree on fire. One little spark and we puff up.

"But Lent is dangerous ultimately because the cross is dangerous. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to those who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18). To those who want to find another way to grace, another path to mercy, the cross is an offense (Gal. 5:11). The sinful heart of man is offended by grace, offended by the folly of the cross. We would rather be proud in all sorts of ways.
"if you plan to fast during Lent, do not kid yourself into thinking that fasting is the same thing as suffering for Jesus. Just because the pastor said that Lent is dangerous doesn’t mean you’re being a great risk taker by abstaining from chocolate or coffee or beer. ..
"The point of abstaining, the point of taking the cross upon your brow, the point of prayer and fasting, the point of all this must be evangelistic, inviting the gospel to fill our lives, our families, our communities....
"And if you fast, let your fasting and prayer be toward particular ends, particular needs, particular hurts, not vague feelings. Fasting does not benefit us. Fasting is a bodily posture. Just as you might kneel or lift your hands in prayer, so too fasting is a posture of humility and urgency. Some of you need to learn to fast and pray. You might dedicate one day a week, one meal a week, you might do it individually, or as a family. But the point is not for a show of piety, the point is not to harness some mystical power. The point is to cry out to God. Peter says that humility is evidenced in casting all our cares upon the God who cares for us. Some of you need to cry out to God because you haven’t been. Some of you need to cry out to God because you’ve been carrying all your cares yourself, because you are weighed down with burdens and stress and fear and unbelief. Use this season of Lent to repent. Set aside time to pray, to pour out your heart to the Lord. And pray it out. Pray until it’s all out. Pray your cares on to the God who cares for you.

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