Ash Wednesday: A Love Story

CURWin Love Mural

What a happy happenstance that Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday collide today. I want to take you back to Ash Wednesday, 2011, for a delightful (Divine) Love Story … My blog post from back then …

For it pleased the Father that in [Jesus] all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight. (Colossians 1:19-22)

“The oddest thing in the world … is a cheerless Christian.” That’s what the article from The Anglican Digest said. And why is that so? Because the Bible says:

“There is … now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). We of all people have been set free from the weight of sin and death!

My sister sent me the article because she’s a lay reader and her church, and she says when she reads a Scripture like that, she wonders why people don’t break into cheers, or at least sit there and grin idiotically.

Then last night at my church’s Ash Wednesday service, our Pastor Alan preached on Colossians 1:21-22, which says, “You, who once were … enemies … yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.”

What do you know? Cheers and shouts of praise broke out! Yes! We are redeemed!

And, because we are Protestants and don’t know what we are doing, the officiant who imposed the ashes on my forehead said, “There is now no condemnation for you” rather than the traditional “From dust you come and to dust you will return.” I was literally stunned with the amazing truth of it!

Thank God the next thing I had to do in this service was kneel at the cross, because my knees started to buckle when he said it, and I could hardly have stood a moment longer under this weight of glory.

Meanwhile our crazy worship band had started singing that David Crowder Band song, “How He Loves,” and when I got back to my seat, many of us hyper-graced folks were on our feet, hands waving, bellowing along, “Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss/ And my heart turns violently inside of my chest” — which was exactly how I felt — “I don’t have time to maintain these regrets, when I think about the way/He loves us, Oh, how He loves us …”

Bah, I have tears in my eyes writing about it right now. He loves us, and the sacrament of His death on the cross was like a tiny glimpse of how He loves us — freely, fully, endlessly, overwhelmingly, with nothing held back, and certainly nothing that condemns.

If you receive the ashes today with the thought of mortifying your pleasures and partaking in Christ’s suffering, that’s good. Better still, as far as I can see, is to receive them as the symbol of His love for you and revel in the power of resurrection. Cheer and grin like an idiot. It’s really the only response.

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Who says this? Mainly racists


“I am not a racist.”

Who says that? It seems to me the folks who are mad at the NFL protesters say it. They want to make it clear: they aren’t mad because they are racists.

One of those outraged people was explaining to me recently why he was mad, and toward the end of his explanation, he felt compelled to add: I’m not a racist.

But I feel like honest people, introspective people who can stand to look at their own interior, don’t say that. They say something more like, “I am making a conscious decision to unlearn racism, and when I notice racist thoughts, I do my best not to act on them.”

I was talking to Jesus about it, about how our faith relates to these troubled times and this particular issue … looking for some example from his time on earth that would show me where he would stand (or kneel). And I felt like he was reminding me of a couple things he said …

But I tell you truthfully, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were closed for three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land. Yet to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, a city of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet. But none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian. (Luke 4:25-27).

He was talking about two people miraculously favored by God who were definitely not among the Chosen People — and one of them wasn’t just a foreigner, but a woman, a widow, sort of the bottom of the barrel in the discrimination game.

When I mentioned this to my sister, she reminded me that Jesus said this in the temple, just after he had announced himself as Messiah by reading the beautiful passage from Isaiah …

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. — Luke 4:18-19

Here, indeed, Jesus is taking a knee with the poor, the oppressed, those who are in need of liberty. He is willing to stand — or kneel — with them, even though it incensed his own people! (They were so angry they decided to throw him off a cliff! I guess the NFL protesters got off light just being called a bad name by the President.)

It’s incomprehensible to me that many evangelical Christians are standing with the President on this issue rather than kneeling alongside those who want to set at liberty those who are oppressed. Somehow some Christians have chosen the establishment over the subversive Savior … and they say it’s not because they are racists. But then … why is it?


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Light reading


We came to the end of our passage! We managed to lectio divina our way through 1 John 1:1-4 before the Easter season ran out —

Which is OK, because I am going on vacation and won’t be able to post every day until after June 6 … when the Pentecost season begins.

So what do you say, for today, we simply continue to verse 5? It goes on this way …

“This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: ‘God is light and there is no darkness in him at all’.” (Common English Bible).

God is light.

Revelation 21:23 says the New Jerusalem, the holy city of God to come, “doesn’t need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because God’s glory is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”

God is light, and there is no darkness in Him at all. His glory is so bright, no sun is needed to light His holy city. What is your reaction to this kind of light, an all-pervasive brighter-than-sunniness?

One of the main impressions I get of a place that’s all light is that there’s nowhere to hide. Everything is out in the open. Kind of scary.

I was asking Jesus about this, how we would be able to function with such complete transparency. The best of us has secrets we wouldn’t want others to know.

It seemed to me Jesus was saying it’s not scary at all, because it’s what we long for when we’re walking with Him.

Every day I’m drawn to spend time alone with Jesus, to listen in silence for His voice, to feel His presence and His love. The more I do this, the more I love everything about Him and wish to be like Him. And He is graciously giving me the desire of my heart.

I am becoming what He is, becoming His love, and so, according to this Scripture, becoming light. Because God is light, and there’s no darkness in Him.

What I want more than anything else is to be like Jesus, and He is light. So I must believe somewhere in my future is a place and time and point on my journey where it will be my delight to be in the light, with no place to hide any secrets … and no secrets to want to hide.

Won’t that be wonderful?



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It makes you happy, too


We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy. (NLT)

… and these things we write to you, that your joy may be full. (Young’s Literal Translation)

We excused John for writing this epistle so that his own joy would be full.

Apparently that concept was too selfish for some Bible translators, and the switch has been made so that he wrote it so that our joy would be full.

I think it’s both, based on what I told you yesterday. It makes our joy more full to share it with others.

“We tell you so that you also will belong with us. And we belong with the Father and the Son. We write these things to you so that we all will be very happy,” says the Worldwide English Version.

That is the joy John wants to share: how we all belong with the Father and Son, the joy of being in unity with God and with each other. I can tell you from my own journey with Jesus, there is no greater joy.

It’s a love like you’ve never known, an endless, unquenchable love which has nothing to do with what we do, and everything to do with what’s been done for us. It’s completion, fulfillment, significance … it’s being known fully by the One who made you, and knowing that He cherishes you just as you are.

“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ,” says the King James Version. It’s an invitation to fellowship, blessed, sweet communion, with God Himself.

And just like John, I can say: “That which I have seen and heard, I am telling you, so you may have fellowship with me, and my fellowship is with the God whose name is mercy.”

Oh yes — my joy is full in telling you this, and your joy is full when you enter into this fellowship!

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Because it makes me happy


We are writing to tell you these things, because this makes us truly happy. (CEV)

We write this to make our joy complete. (NIV)

Oh, nice. John wrote these things to you so he, John, would be happy. Not so you would be happy? Not so the people he was writing to would be happy? But because it made him happy?

Maybe. Some translations say “that your joy may be full” (KJV) or the more generous “Your joy will double our joy!” (MSG)

It seems to imply, though, that John himself received some measure of joy in sharing what he knew about the Living Word, that he had seen, and heard and touched and was being transformed into Jesus.

I was asking Jesus about this, about why John phrased it like this, why it was his joy to share what he had witnessed. It seemed to me Jesus was saying, “Do you ask me that, Ms. Love Minus Zero? For all you know there’s not a soul who reads your blog, but you keep writing it. Because it makes you happy!”

And it does. Because I don’t know how to make a proper blog, I really have no idea whether these words are just sitting there unread.

But every now and then, when someone does comment, and I get the idea that something I told someone about Jesus actually spoke to their heart about Jesus — it’s a gas!

What can be better than making Christ known, than shouting to the world, “Everything is going to be okay because Christ is risen, and He loves you! Let Him into your heart to heal you, and you’ll be overwhelmed with joy in His presence!”

It’s a gift, this joy, and it’s of the topsy-turvy kingdom kind, where the more you share it and spread it around, the more of it you have for yourself as well. I get why John wrote what he wrote.

Because it was true. It made his joy complete!

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Fellowship divine


We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (NLT)

Jesus prayed in John 17 that His followers would become one with Him and the Father — here John is saying that’s what has happened to him, he is in fellowship with God.

John, the beloved disciple, is also the one who tells us what the nature and substance of God is, later in this same book — “God is love,” he says in 1 John 4:8.

This means, the Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is a Being of complete and pure love, somehow separate people, somehow one Being, all complete in love. And it seems that love seeks an object …

And that object is you.

You have been invited into the dance of the Trinity, to be made one with the Father, Son and Spirit, one with other believers who have also been brought into unity with God through the mighty work of His Son.

You are to be wholly loved, and wholly loving, transformed into the same substance and nature as Christ Himself … the substance of LOVE.

And in this, we see why John phrases this verse the way he does:

…that which we have seen and heard declare we to you, that ye also may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship [is] with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ ( Young’s Literal Translation).

He seems to imply that when you have fellowship with John, you are having fellowship with Christ Himself — because he knows that he is being transformed into the nature and substance as Christ!

This means when we come into contact with others, and invite them to fellowship with us, we’re inviting them into fellowship with God, because we also are being transformed into Christ’s love … which is to say, into Christ!

Oh my goodness! What an amazing thought! What an amazing Savior!



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Jesus’ prayer — answered!


We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (NLT)

We’re going to take this verse apart, backward. We’re going to start with …

“Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.”

What a glorious pronouncement! John is saying, “I am in union with God.”

This was an answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17 …

“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one-as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me… I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.” (John 17:21-23 and 26)

He prayed that you and I would be in complete union with Him and the Father. He prayed we would be drawn into the dance of the Trinity.

We know from 1 John 4:8 that God is love, which means the Trinity, our Creator God, is a Being of pure love, complete in Himself, wholly loved, and wholly loving — so bursting with love that He made people, made us, so He could love us, and draw us into His dance of love!

This is what I believe John was saying here when he said his fellowship was with the Father and Son. He had become one with them as Jesus prayed he would.

And you, too, have been drawn into that dance!


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Divine Mystery


Now we are telling you about this eternal life that was with the Father and appeared to us. (CEV)

He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. (NLT)

… we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us … (KJV)

Again we see a little theme with John — Jesus, the Word, the Eternal Life, was “with the Father.” This echoes back to John’s Gospel, where he writes, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

For thousands of years, the people of Israel had daily recited, “Hear, oh Israel. The Lord your God is one!” For them, the idea of multiple gods was not only foreign, but blasphemous.

John wanted to insure they understood … God had revealed a new facet of His glorious being: He is one God, but three Persons — Father. Son and Holy Spirit.

We try to make up analogies for it — a troika that thinks and acts as one, a cake whose 3 separate ingredients don’t taste good on their own, but blended are delicious …

But it’s no good. Those don’t really give us an idea of God’s true nature, because it is a mystery.

CS Lewis said if we came from a two-dimensional world where all was flat, and someone tried to describe a cube to us, we’d be flabbergasted, because in all our flat world, there had never been anything with depth or height, and so there wouldn’t even be words for depth and height. So it is with the Trinity, a kind of Being for which we have no words and only poor analogies.

But here’s the exciting part — through Christ we’re asked to join the Trinity! Jesus prayed in John 17 that we would become one with Him and the father!

We can’t imagine it now, total union with a Being who is Love itself … but I believe those of us who are saturated in Him now have a little grasp of what it is like, and it is wonderful!

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Face to face with the Savior


The life appeared; we have seen it … (NIV)

This life came to earth. We saw him … (Worldwide English)

What a great, great passage for Easter season. The Life appeared, was manifested, came to earth. The Greek word used for life here, “zoe,” in the Bible is used often to refer to eternal life, or spiritual life. The Greek word “phaneroo” used for appear has a subtle meaning of something hidden that is revealed.

The spiritual life that was hidden from us was suddenly revealed!

The soul-connection with God we were intended to have, which was hidden from our eyes by the sin of Adam and Even who sundered humanity from union with God, was restored in our sight!

The body of Christ that was life-less and broken for us was hidden away in a tomb and then on Easter Sunday revealed! Appeared! Manifested!

Remember that Adam and Eve hid from God after they ate the Forbidden Fruit. They didn’t want to be seen, and I think in trying to keep themselves from being seen, they also lost sight of something — the face-to-face fellowship with God they once enjoyed.

That privilege was hidden away, just as they hid themselves away. They couldn’t see God anymore, and they didn’t want Him to see them.

So, what was it, exactly, this spiritual life which was hidden from us by sin, taken from us when our First Parents chose to desert God’s way and follow their own? It was, I believe, the life of complete union with our heavenly Father.

His is, Himself, love. When He created our world, for love of us, He walked daily in the Garden with Adam, communed with him as a friend. This, I think, was the spiritual life that was intended for us, and which we lost sight of.

And now, in Christ, it appears again, revealed, manifested. “We have seen it,” John testifies. “We saw Him,” the Worldwide English version says.

The Life of Eden is manifested in Christ, for us to see … blessed sweet communion resurrected, because now we can see God face to face again.

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That’s life


The one who gives life appeared! (CEV)

The Word of Life appeared … (MSG)

… the Life was manifested … (Young’s Literal Translation)

Ah … the one who gives life appeared! Life was manifested. This is such tremendous good news! As we mediate on 1 John 1:2, let’s begin with two important words …

Life and Appeared.

Life, we know, means something animated, something alive, has life. The Greek word John uses here is transliterated as “zoe.” From it we get words like “zoology” that deal with living animals.

If you’ve read much CS Lewis, you may have run into this word before, he uses it to mean the spiritual life, as opposed to physical life, respiration, animation, etc.

In the Bible, too, this word “zoe” often connotes the life of God, or life in God, or life eternal. The unending spiritual life we share with God, let’s say.

And “Appeared” here is the Greek word transliterated phaneroo, which means manifested or was made apparent or, more literally, something hidden that was revealed.

When I was asking Jesus about this phrase, I felt like He brought to my mind the book of Genesis and how our spiritual life, our zoe, was “hidden” when our First Parents turned from God’s path. The eternal life of communion with the Divine Mystery was hidden away after the disastrous choice to reject God’s plan for humanity and pursue our own plan.

But now, through the coming of Jesus, the “one who gives life,” it is revealed!


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