Dear Friends of Jesus and the Allegheny West Conference,
Greetings in the name of Jesus—the One who was tempted in every way but did not sin—the One who allowed himself to be strapped to a Roman cross and be crucified as an atonement for our sin—the One who conquered sin and death.
February 14 is Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of the season of Lent—the 40-day period (excluding Sundays) between the Ashes of Wednesday to the “Hosanna’s” of Palm Sunday. I’m praying for you and your local church as you journey through this important season.
May these words help frame your journey:
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:7-10)
While James wrote the words of the text before the calendar of the Christian year was set, his words describe the attitude with which we should approach this season. Submit to God. Resist the enemy of our souls. Draw near to God. Purify your heart. Be single minded in pursuing God. Grieve your sin and humble yourself before God—and He will lift us up.
I invite you to experience the journey through Lent as a time of self-examination, confession, and repentance—when we as followers of Jesus remember WHY he came—to seek and save the lost; WHY he suffered—to atone for our sins; and WHY he died—so that in rising he could conquer death and open the door to eternal life. We can be tempted to be in a hurry to get to the celebration of Easter; but I find those who take the time to allow the journey through Lent to do its work are much better prepared to celebrate the wonder of Easter.
Please join me in praying for our world and our communities. We live in complicated and turbulent days. Our world is facing war and deep divisions—turmoil and sadness—sadness and confusion. It might tempt us to wring our hands in despair, but I invite you to fold your hands in prayer and ask God to move in our world. I believe God is moving in profound and Kingdom ways in our world, and I invite you to pray that we might be a part of it. Let’s pray especially for those who don’t yet know the difference Jesus can bring—but also for our brothers and sisters who struggle with losing focus on Jesus in favor of tuning into or reacting to worldly strife.
Remember the forgiveness and grace Jesus offers us. Let’s approach Lent with a humble heart. Jesus didn’t walk the way of the cross for “them” (whoever “they” may be!)—he endured the shame of the cross for you and me. I have sinned. You have sinned. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Once again allow the Spirit to search our hearts and know us—allow Him to reveal any unclean thing within us—and allow the sanctifying grace of God to continue to do its work in us. Allow the rhythms of this season to draw you closer to God.
Let’s lay down all our bitterness, weariness, and resentment—and let forgiveness refresh us. Not only the forgiveness we receive—but the forgiveness we are empowered to offer. If I might get personal here—some of us need to release angst, resentment, and unrequited anger we’ve carried with us from our former denomination. I encourage us to do the heart work needed so we can all move forward in strength—until we do, we will never be free. So— pray for the person or situation you have the most difficulty forgiving. Because once we’ve experienced the mercy and grace of forgiveness of God for ourselves—we are compelled to forgive others.
We have much to be thankful for. Jesus suffered for us. He died for us. He rose for us. He waits for us. Jesus covers our sins. There is no better news than the good news we have—and there is no greater love than the love Jesus offers. We know Easter is coming. But let’s encourage everyone in our congregations to allow the good news to be even sweeter by allowing the journey through Lent to do its work.
I’m blessed and honored to share this journey with you!
Dr. Jeffrey E. Greenway
President Pro Tempore