It’s become common in recent years for people to find an alternate way to describe themselves as Christians. It’s because calling yourself a Christian in our day doesn’t fully communicate what it is we’re trying to say.
A lot of people who describe themselves as a Christian are saying they grew up going to a Protestant or a Roman Catholic church. What they’re saying when they call themselves a Christian, most often, is that they believe there is a God and they’re not Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist. If they’re going to identify with any religious group, the group they identify with most closely would be the Christians.
That leaves people who have a living faith that is central to who they are looking for some way to designate that their faith is something they take seriously. Back in the ‘70’s, people would distinguish themselves as committed Christians by using the biblical term “born again.” Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter famously used the term to describe himself in the 1976 presidential election, and a lot of voters pulled the lever for him and said “amen.”
The cultural Christians at the time didn’t much care for the “born again” group, in part because the “born again” designation communicated a “better than” or “holier than” idea. Born again communicated “real Christian,” and the more casual, less devout group didn’t much care for that.
The use of the term faded after a time. Which left people who take their faith seriously looking for some other way to express their faith commitment.
“Evangelical” became a common way to say my faith really matters to me. But in recent years, that term has fallen on hard times. Again, a presidential election made the term confusing. Evangelical has become for some a shorthand way of talking about religious people who are supporters of the current President. Sometimes the media will use the term “conservative Christians,” but the use of the term evangelical is even more common.
Which has let to a lot of serious Christians abandoning the term. They don’t want to refer to themselves with a word that gives people the wrong idea about their social or political views.
Some have adopted the term “Christ follower” as a way of saying they are more than just a church attender or a person with a Christian heritage. I’m not sure what the average person thinks today when a friend describes himself or herself with that kind of a designation. But I found myself thinking about the term today as I reflected on the significance of this day as part of the historic church calendar.
For most people, this day comes and goes every year without much fanfare. People may be vaguely aware that today is Ash Wednesday because they attend a church where the day is noted and ashes are spread on their foreheads. Some people connect the start of the Lenten season with the Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday events that in some settings have come to be a celebration sinful indulgence before what is supposed to be a season of fasting and self denial.
But for the majority of Americans, today was just another Wednesday.
Obviously, we don’t have an Ash Wednesday worship service at Redeemer. Some people in our church will choose to prepare for the coming of Easter with a season of reflection and fasting. Others will do nothing particular to mark the coming of the annual celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at Easter.
There’s nothing in the Bible about Lent. The passage of scripture that comes to mind for me as we arrive at this season of the year each year is Romans 14:5, where Paul talks about holy days and observances. “One person esteems one day as better than another,” Paul writes, “while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”
Now you might be asking at this point “what does someone describing himself or herself as a “Christ follower” have to do with Ash Wednesday or Lent? The answer is in what Jesus says in Matthew 16:34: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
If you’re a Christ follower, you’re committed to a life of self-denial. You’ve signed up for a life of saying no to your own passions and appetites. Dying to self and putting the needs of others ahead of your own is part of what defines you.
The tradition of a Lenten fast – the idea of “giving up something for Lent” – has historically been an invitation for all who follow Jesus to use the practice of a season of some form of self denial as a way to meditate on the greatest act of self-denial.
In his letter to Titus, the Apostle Paul says that as those who are on the receiving end of God’s grace, we respond by saying no to ungodliness and worldly passions, and by living self controlled, upright and godly lives while we wait for the One who gave Himself for us to redeem us (Titus 2:11–14).
Whether you observe the Lenten season or not, it’s healthy for any of us who would call ourselves Christ followers to ask ourselves in what way self denial is part of our lives. Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, prayed that He might not have to go through with the crucifixion. But His greater desire was to do God’s will.
And for any of us who would call ourselves followers of Jesus today, setting our own desires aside to do God’s will is part of what being a follower is all about.
Are you ready for an update on our new church home?
That’s a big part of what we’ll talk about after lunch this Sunday in our Town Hall (Business) Meeting. Here are the details.
In the meantime, here are some photos of what’s happening down on David O Dodd (including this picture of our new baptistery).
We’ll have more to show on Sunday. See you there.
Don’t forget the women’s fellowship happening next Tuesday night.
And guys. If you haven’t signed up yet for the men’s retreat, beds are going fast. Click here to reserve your spot.
Here again are the details.
Richard Fulenwider and Keith Thomas have landed on Tuesday nights for their study of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. If you missed the informational meeting this week, you’re still welcome to join the group. Contact Richard for more details. firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m hoping many of you are thinking about skipping church on Sunday, April 7.
That’s because that’s the weekend FamilyLIfe is hosting our Weekend to Remember marriage getaway at the Marriott Hotel downtown.
How long has it been since you’ve spent a weekend away as a couple, building into your marriage? Is it time for a tune up? Even great marriages could use a little preventive maintenance!
Chad and Wendy Donley or John and Julie Majors would be happy to give you more information or tell you how you can save $100 per couple on the registration fee by using a special code they have. So contact Chad at email@example.com, or Wendy at firstname.lastname@example.org, or John at email@example.com or Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And you can find out more about the Weekend to Remember by clicking here.
You’ve probably learned over the years that not everyone you meet is excited when you share the good news about Jesus with them. In his final parable in Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells a story that should prepare us for a less than warm response to our evangelistic efforts. We’ll talk about it Sunday.
See you in church.
Soli Deo Gloria!