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Learning from Lent

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Like most lifelong Baptists, I grew up with no understanding of Lent. I saw Ash Wednesday on my calendar but didn’t know why. “Mardi Gras” made the news and was anything but religious.

For liturgically challenged people like me, let’s begin with some facts.

“Lent” comes from the old Anglo-Saxon or Teutonic word Lencten, which simply means “spring.” By the end of the second century AD, it designated a period of spiritual preparation for Easter. The season begins on Ash Wednesday (February 26 this year), always the seventh Wednesday before Easter Sunday. Ashes are placed on worshippers’ foreheads as symbols of humility and gratitude for Jesus’ death.

The three days before Ash Wednesday are known historically as Shrovetide, from the Old English word for “repent.” These days were originally used as spiritual preparation for Lent and closed with a Tuesday feast before the fast which began on Ash Wednesday. That Tuesday was sometimes called “Fat Tuesday” (Mardi Gras in French). The ancient Christians who first observed the day would scarcely recognize it today.

The first observers of Lent fasted for a day, or a few days, or forty hours. The Council of Nicea (AD 325) designated Lent as forty days, with only one daily meal permitted and meat, fish, eggs, and milk products forbidden. By the fifteenth century, these food restrictions were dropped in the Western Church (they are still upheld in the Eastern Church today), and only breakfast was forbidden. In 1966, the Roman Catholic Church restricted the obligation of fasting to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

How can Lent help you prepare for Easter?

As you follow Christ to his cross and resurrection, be public with your faith. If you don’t wear ash on your forehead, what will you do to tell others you worship the risen Christ?

Be penitent, remembering Jesus’ crucified sacrifice for you with humble gratitude.

And be sacrificial. Skip a meal and spend the time in prayer. Fast from television for Bible study, or from your cell phone for solitude with God.

The cross cost Jesus everything—what will it cost you this year?

Learning from Lent can make Easter far more memorable. May its lessons draw us all closer to our crucified, risen Lord.

NOTE: Pastor Mark Turman read Empowered: A Guide to Experiencing the Power of the Holy Spirit and asked to record its forty-seven chapters as daily readings for his church.

When I heard about this, I asked if we could release these recordings as bonus episodes of The Daily Article Podcast every day from Ash Wednesday to Easter. So we have done that.

Here’s Day 1:

You may subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast app. You can also ask Alexa or Google to “Play The Daily Article Podcast.”

We hope the biblical content in these podcast episodes will encourage you each day.

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