Baptists and Lent

I have been a Baptist for a long time, most of my forty eight years. I grew up being a Royal Ambassador (RA) and looking forward each summer to Vacation Bible School. I remember Thanksgiving Services, Christmas Eve Services, and Easter Sunrise Services. Lent, or any type of observance of Lent was not something I remember. We Baptists just didn’t do Ash Wednesday or Lent, at least not at Harmony Baptist Church in Banks County.

The following is a good description of Lent for those of you wondering just what observing Lent means. It is taken from the Bible Gateway Blog entitled: What is Lent?

Lent is the span of time in the church calendar that starts with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday commemorates the beginning of Jesus’ 40-day fasting and temptation in the desert, and Easter Sunday commemorates Jesus’ resurrection from the grave after his crucifixion.

Lent, then, is generally observed as a time for Christians to reflect, repent, and pray as a way of preparing their hearts for Easter. It is commonly observed by many Christian denominations—Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and others—although not every Christian church or denomination does so. Because Lent is not officially instituted in Scripture, observing it isn’t in any way a “requirement” of Christianity. However, Christians from many different theological persuasions choose to observe it as a way of focusing their thoughts on Jesus Christ during the Easter season.

How does one observe Lent? It differs from person to person and church to church, but some of the things Christians opt to do to observe Lent include:

  • On the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday), some Christians mark their foreheads with ash as a symbol of sorrow and mourning over their sin. (See Job 42 for an example of ash used as a symbol of repentance.)
  • Special worship services or special devotional activity during Lent, that focuses on the human need for repentance. This often takes the form of extra Scripture readings and prayer.
  • Some Christians choose to give up a habit or behavior during Lent as an exercise in prayerful self-denial. This might range from something as simple as not drinking soda during Lent to a full-blown program of fasting.

The choice to observe Lent is a personal one—the whole point is to focus your heart and mind on Jesus during the journey to Easter. There’s no requirement to observe it, nor should you feel guilted into participating. However, millions of Christians around the world do observe Lent each year; if you’ve never done so, why not give it a try? Whether you observe Lent in a small or major way, you’ll be amazed at what happens when you devote a part of each day to reflecting on Jesus Christ and God’s Word.

About twelve years ago, I attended my first Ash Wednesday Service, at Milledge Avenue Baptist Church, in Athens, Ga.  I wondered what a Baptist Church was doing celebrating Ash Wednesday and Lent. The ashes that are put on your forehead, in the symbol of a cross, remind us of the passage from Genesis 3:19: “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” It reminds us that we are only on this earth for a short period of time and we need to make every second of every day count for something good.

This year I decided to use the time of Lent as a time of self-denial. We read in the Gospel of Matthew that after Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by Satan for a period of forty days. Satan tried to tempt Jesus into sin when he was at his weakest point. Jesus fought the power of Satan with scripture and he remained without sin during this time in the desert and throughout his time on earth.

For me, Lent has become a time to draw closer to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am reminded of the great sacrifice that Christ made for all of us and I am reminded of the fact that I am not without sin. This period of self-denial has drawn me closer to God especially in my daily prayers.

It was fine that we didn’t celebrate the season of Lent in my childhood church in Banks County. However, I am certainly glad that my current church decided to make this time of Lent, a part of our yearly worship time. I feel that I have grown each year and that God uses this time to continue shaping my life into something useful for his kingdom.

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Scripture Reading: Matthew 18:21-22: Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy – seven times.”

Peter, the disciple, comes to Jesus and asks a question about forgiveness. Peter may have thought that he already had in mind a good answer to his question on how many times we are to forgive someone.  Peter answers his own question, “Up to seven times?” he said. We already know that Jesus is going to give Peter a different answer, which is that you should forgive someone who sins against you up to seventy-seven times – or unlimited forgiveness. Most of us probably don’t like this answer from Jesus, it make us feel uncomfortable.

The gospel writer Matthew then gives us the parable of the Unmerciful Servant, told by Jesus, as an illustration about forgiveness. Jesus tells the story of a king, who forgave a debt to one of his servants that was so large, that repayment was impossible. That servant then goes out from the presence of the king and meets a fellow servant. This fellow servant asks the servant who has just been forgiven, to be patient with him in repaying his debt. But the forgiven servant took no mercy upon his fellow servant and began to choke him and demand payment. The forgiven servant then has his fellow servant thrown into jail until he could repay the debt.  This unmerciful servant had quickly forgotten that he was also forgiven.

Most of us also struggle with this teaching of Jesus to forgive. We hold onto grudges, in fact, many people enjoy holding grudges against other people. They feel that somehow they are making the other person “pay” for what they have done to them. If we are honest with ourselves we know that it is the person holding the grudge that is paying the price. Holding onto hurts and perceived ill will only leads to bitterness and feelings of resentment.

God forgives us if we confess our sin and our failings and ask for forgiveness. We are forgiven, even though our debt to God, through the work of Christ on the cross, is impossible to repay.  And because we have been forgiven a great debt then we should forgive our fellow brothers and sisters when they do things to us that hurt us in some way. Many times we find that it is difficult to forgive, but as followers of Christ, it is essential that we start to live out forgiveness in our daily lives.

The unmerciful servant had been forgiven a debt that he could not possibly repay in his lifetime. He asked for mercy, he got down on his knees and he begged for mercy. And his request was granted, he was forgiven. And then, in a matter of moments, he forgot what mercy and forgiveness was like. This man could not forgive his fellow servant for a small debt.

God forgives us when we are contrite and sincere and He expects us, He commands us, to also forgive.  God is forgiving, but He will also judge those of us that refuse to forgive one another. Learn to forgive and you will begin to live the life that God intended for you to live, loving one another.




Joshua and my Father-in-Law

Scripture Reading: Joshua 24:15: But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

In our scripture reading today, we find Joshua near the end of his life.  Joshua had built an impressive resume over the years.  He was with Moses, as his assistant, and he was present as Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. Joshua saw the parting of the Red Sea and he was there for the long wanderings in the desert.  Joshua saw God part the Jordan River and bring down the walls of Jericho. Joshua was one of the twelve spies that were sent into Canaan to report back to the Israelites about the Promised Land. Joshua (and Caleb) believed in God’s promise of the Promised Land, while everyone else around them wanted to go back to Egypt, into slavery.

And now, nearing the end of his life, Joshua was telling his fellow Israelites that he and his household would serve the Lord. He was also trying to get them to make the same commitment to follow God, who had delivered them out of slavery into a land of promise.

When I first met my father-in-law, Rawdon Akins, I immediately knew that his household served the Lord. I first noticed it when we sat down for a meal and Rawdon prayed. There was never a time that I sat down with him that a prayer was not said over a meal. He never forgot or was too tired to thank God for what had been given to him and his family.

What Rawdon was saying to me, and to anyone else, who was present, was that his household served and honored the Lord. It’s not just something you say; rather it’s something that you live out every day of your life. I’m not saying that Rawdon was perfect or that his family was perfect. None of us are perfect. We stumble, we sin and we wander away from God many times throughout the day.  But Rawdon always came back to find God, to thank him and to say, my household, my family, we belong to God.

In 2009 while Rawdon was in the hospital, his pastor was visiting him. Pastor Harry said that just as he got into the room and said hello, Rawdon asked him if he was going to pray. There was no doubt that this man and his household served the Lord. Rawdon wasn’t worried about a nurse, a doctor, or visitors in the room, he wanted to pray. And he wasn’t embarrassed to say that he followed God.

Rawdon passed away on July 18, 2009 but his memory will live on in our lives forever. I wish that he could have been with us much longer to pass along his wisdom on how to be a true follower of Christ. He did leave behind a legacy for his family to follow because there was never any question that this man and his household served God.

I try to measure my life and myself against my father-in-law, and I usually find myself lacking. He set an example for me and he encouraged and supported me in my ministry. Most importantly, he believed in me and he gave me plenty of good advice that I still think about today. I hope that one day my family will remember me in the same way that I remember my father-in-law.

Joshua 24:24: And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”




Reckless Words

Scripture Reading: Proverbs 12:18: Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

The words that are spoken to us by our family, friends, co-workers, or complete strangers can either build us up or they can tear us down. Words are powerful and they can have a lasting effect that can be positive or negative. Most of us prefer to be around people that have encouraging words to say to us, words that make us feel loved and appreciated. However, we all come across people who just don’t have a kind word to say and we must learn how to respond in a wise manner.

All of us have had to respond to someone who has said harsh words to us. We don’t always respond in the best way because we get mad, upset, offended and we want to strike back. I have known people that actually enjoy arguing and getting into conflicts. They are happiest when they have a feud going.Proverbs 15:1 says:  A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

I heard a mother of two young children recently get very upset in a store over the price of an item. The mother was getting visibly upset at the poor clerk who obviously had no control over the price of the item. The mother started using language that you would not expect a mother to use. Then she turned to her children and told them to repeat the same offensive, vulgar phrase to the young cashier. The kids obeyed their mother and they stormed out the door, with the mother still yelling obscenities.

Words hurt, and sometimes they hurt badly. This poor cashier did nothing to deserve this onslaught of obscenities, and to her credit, she remained polite and as calm as possible. I tried to reassure the cashier that this woman probably came into the store mad, and that unfortunately, the cashier was the first one that she came into contact with.  I’m not sure that really helped.

Paul, in Ephesians 4:29 writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”As Christians, we should not only stop using offensive language, but we must use words that will build each other up.

James 1:19-20 reminds us, Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.








God’s Amazing Grace

Romans 6:11-14: In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.