Category Archives: Lent

Follow Close

follow close

We say in Lent that we follow in the footsteps of Jesus on his way to the cross. But what does that mean exactly? In a sermon I heard a few weeks ago, the preacher talked about how disciples in Jesus’ day walked so close behind their masters that dust from their masters’ footsteps fell onto them. That’s how close we should follow Jesus this Lent. We should let his words, his life, his ways fall on us and become a part of us and who we are.

What is more, many disciples in the time of Jesus were spokespeople for their masters. They knew what he would say. They knew what he would do. They knew how he would respond. We who have read the gospels and know the trajectory of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection can speak with certainty that Jesus would say, “I love you.” We know that he would do the job of a servant to show his care. We know that he would respond with mercy to every confession of sin.

Our lives should be in lockstep with our Savior. Our walk should always mirror his. As St. Paul tells us, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but when it comes to our imitation of Christ, it is the sincerest form of faith. Be a faithful follower of Christ today.

Giving Up

no chocolate

“So what are you giving up this Lent?” Has anyone asked you that in this season? For many, the answer is simple. “Yes, chocolates, TV, using your phone too much,” etc. But for others the answer is a little more complicated and personal: an addiction, a truly sinful habit, a bias or prejudice. Lent allows for it all. Whatever you may be giving up this Lent, do it with all your heart. This is an opportunity to really get to the bottom of what is really holding us back from a true and honest, full and close relationship with God. The Bible warns us not to give up on giving up:

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Hebrews 12:3

We turn to Christ for guidance when we feel ourselves wanting to give up on giving up those things that distract us from God. Jesus never gave up on the way to the cross. He never turned back. He kept going even in the face of ridicule and pain and disgrace. He gave completely of himself so that we could completely experience the love of God for us in his forgiveness and everlasting salvation.

We may not be able to see it now, but the goal of heaven is coming. Doing the good that God wants us to do in response to his love for us thus becomes a part of who we are when we know what awaits in the end. As St. Paul tells us,

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

Turn to Him

turn to God

For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live. Ezekiel 18:32

The word repent means “to turn.” On this Ash Wednesday, we turn to God in repentance for our sins as we begin the 40-day season of Lent leading to Good Friday and Easter. As we read in this verse from Ezekiel, when we turn to God, we live. Compare Ezekiel’s words to those of St. Paul: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23). Sin means death, but Jesus means life. Turn your head, turn your heart, turn your life to Christ this day and live through him.

Unread Emails

delete emails

A few months ago, I had approximately 10,000 unread emails in my account. So I decided to start clicking on, reading or simply deleting all the unread emails. It took a little while, but I could look for keys words and delete huge batches of emails at one time. Eventually I got down to zero unread messages, and now when a new email message appears, I click on it almost immediately, read it, and keep or delete as I deem necessary.

This activity makes me think of all the messages we receive from the Internet, television, church, our loved ones, coworkers, teachers, neighbors, etc. Our brain has to assess each message and decide on whether to believe it or reject it, act on it or lay it aside. This is what is called discernment. And the Bible has this to say about it:

Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:15-16).

We who are Christian are blessed to have Christ as our guide in discerning all things. He is the litmus test. He is the final say. He is the one who makes the decision clear. Think today about the many sound bites of information you hear. Does the information pass the “Jesus test”? For instance, is it something he would say is true to his Word, God-pleasing, or effective in building up his kingdom? Then it is worth listening to. If it is not, then delete it from your brain. It is not anything that should take up space in your mental hard drive.

Giving Up

no soda

What did you give up for Lent? How is that going? I find, like with many things, that I start off well, and then start petering out as I get a few weeks in. Over the years I have attempted to give up soda, sweets or TV time for Lent. But when things get hard, when the days get long, when my work piles up, the things I gave up are the first things I give up on.

But I am reminded this day that Jesus never gave up on giving up his very life for us. Even when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane, pleading in prayer to God that there be another way to salvation than the way of the cross, he still did not stop moving forward with God’s plan. He got up from his tough prayer and his emotional turmoil and he said to his disciples, “The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Mark 14:41).

His resolve inspires me to keep going in following him by giving up those things that can distract me from him so that I can spend more time in prayer and the Word, focused on the end goal of everlasting life with him through his death and resurrection.


Ash Wednesday

Today on Ash Wednesday, we hear these words spoken over us as we receive ashes on our foreheads: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). It is a stark reminder to us that we are mortal and our time on this earth is finite. There is nothing that can change that.

But something that we need to remember on this day and throughout Lent is this quote: “Remember that you are God’s, and to God you will return” (Hiortdahl, Brian, “A Day to Remember.” Living Lutheran, January/February 2023, 13). Yes, we are mortal, but we belong to God, so our destiny is not finite death in dust, but everlasting life in and with him through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Lent then becomes for us a dual focus: on our limited human condition because of sin and on the unlimited love of God to save us from that state that we might receive limitless life through the death and resurrection of his Son.

We think of Lent so often as a somber time, and it is, in part, but as a whole it is an opportunity to remember where we have been in sin and confess that shortfall, and then look forward in joy to where we are going because of the forgiveness that transforms our lowly lives into glorious examples of our God at work.



And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. —Matthew 17:2

The account of the Transfiguration of our Lord is read before Lent begins in some church traditions and in the midst of Lent in others. The event involves Jesus going up to a mountain and his face shining like the sun with the glory of God. It is a bright spot in a season of darkness. Why does the Church include it? It highlights quite brilliantly what is just beneath the surface: Jesus is fully God as well as fully man. His divine nature is revealed in Scripture for a short time in this way to remind us of what is happening in Lent: God is being glorified in the suffering and death of Christ, even if it is not readily visible in these very human and horrific events.

Each Sunday during the Benediction, a mini-Transfiguration is spoken over us in these words: The Lord make his face shine upon you. We get a glimpse of the glory of Christ in that moment every week. Never forget what is just below the surface in the life of Jesus as we walk in his footsteps toward the cross: Glory shines within him.

Palm Waving

palm waving

We wave palms on Palm Sunday as the people in Jerusalem did 2000 years ago to welcome Jesus into town for what would turn out to be his last week before his death. The waving of palm branches was traditionally associated with the arrival of a king. People then and now declare Jesus a king on this day.

But Christ’s kingship is far from regal. It is real and earthy and marked soon with a crown of thorns instead of a golden one. Jesus walked among the people instead of hidden away in a stone castle. His path was not lined with a red carpet, but a scattering of well-worn cloaks and coats. His ride was a donkey, not a chariot or horse.

Jesus makes sure that we know that he is not like other kings who are distant and haughty. He is with us and he is humble. He is not afraid to be looked upon as lowly. So much so that he would go to the cross instead of a throne. He would rather die than let us suffer forever in sin.

Our palm waving on this day will lead to fist waving at the Pavement of Pontius Pilate. Our hosannas will turn into shouts of “Crucify him!” But just as we look ahead to the hard days of Holy Week, we see on the horizon a new day on Easter, when our King will rise and all the saints in heaven will gather round his throne, waving palm branches once again, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10).

Our Journey with Christ

Jesus walking

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Ashes are placed on our heads in the form of a cross and sorrow comes from our hearts for the things we have done to disobey our God.

During these 40 days (not counting Sundays), we journey in spirit with our Savior toward the cross. Our minds remember the suffering and betrayal he endured for us and our hearts ache for him because we have put him in this position because of our sins.

The journey with Christ in Lent leads us to a desert where he overcomes temptation. It takes us to a road lined with palms of praise. It takes us to the temple where he turns the tables of the money-changers. It beckons us to an Upper Room with his disciples where he shares he body and blood in bread and wine. It takes us to a garden where he is arrested. It takes us to a courtroom where he is charged with blasphemy. It takes us to his death on Calvary.

His journey points to times in our journey when we face temptations, when we are filled with praise, when we let money rule our lives, when we gather with fellow believers, when we are tried and convicted in the court of public opinion for our perceived slights. Those are the ups and downs of Christian living. But in the end it is Jesus alone who paves the way for us all by his death on the cross for a journey to heaven that will bring only blessing and joy. Welcome to Lent.

Ideas for reconnecting with members of your church family: Part 2

Last week, we talked about strategies for reaching out to people who have “disappeared” from your parish. Here, we’ll focus on parishioners who remain involved, but who could use a little inspiration during Lent. 

Last week, we talked about strategies for reaching out to people who have “disappeared” from your parish. Here, we’ll focus on parishioners who remain involved, but who could use a little inspiration. 

Revitalize your small groups

Many parish ministers and volunteers who meet online report that they’re suffering from “Zoom fatigue.” Are you seeing declining remote attendance for your ministry groups? Here are some ways you might help people beat that fatigue, and liven things up:

Invite a familiar guest

Ministries who meet online can benefit from a quick check-in with your parish spiritual leaders. You might arrange for your ministry leaders to spend ten minutes at the beginning or end of ministry meetings. They can offer a special blessing or some words of wisdom specific to the ministry. Or, they might simply use the time to listen to volunteers’ concerns and ideas for the parish. For many parishioners, just knowing a beloved pastor or clergy member will be participating at their next online meeting—even if it’s only for a few minutes—can be a great spiritual or social pick-me-up. 

Don’t forget fellowship

I attended an online parish ministry meeting over Christmas that wasn’t at our usual time. There was no agenda. There was no parish business to discuss. We wore silly hats and ugly sweaters and simply talked and shared our challenges and joys. Most important, we laughed together. That one unstructured meeting brought us together in a way that a year of meetings couldn’t come close to doing. Think about some parish ministries that could use a little unstructured fellowship time like this. Perhaps your Bible study groups could benefit from a virtual “Friday Fellowship” that’s purely social. Everyone can bring their own sandwich and beer to toast their friendship and spiritual growth. Consider using these Trivia Cards as discussion starters. Provide an inexpensive gift or prize to share—a bookmark, key tag or even a set of placemats can show your support. 

Help people take a step outside comfort zones.

Summer is all about shaking up our spiritual complacencies, so why not gently suggest your online groups to try something new? Bible study folks might read one of the narratives from the Psalm 23. Prayer groups might try a new topical study. Consider summer as a time to recalibrate for better living, such as Henri Nouwen inspired Art of [Christian] Living

Be specific about your gratitude.

If you haven’t done so in a while, take a minute to acknowledge and applaud your parish ministries for the good things they’ve done during quarantine. You might share a small token of your gratitude, but what’s really important here is the specific affirmation of the real things people have done. It can be as easy as writing a note on your parish website or sharing a video on social media. Share some of the specific ways ministries have adjusted their practices or made on-the-fly changes—ushers who learned how to direct traffic for parking lot worship, for example, or youth ministers who found creative ways for confirmation students to gather online. Who knows how your small expressions of gratitude will inspire other parishioners to take stock of their own lives and express their thanks to the Lord, who gives us everything we need?

ICYMI: Last week’s article on reconnecting with parishioners who have dropped out can be found here.

Connie Clark is the editor of Living Faith Kids and the author of numerous books and booklets for educators, families, and children.