Here we are, seven weeks into 2021—a year we desperately hoped for throughout the last one. Most of us have been forever changed by the events of 2020. It is with this new lens that we approach Ash Wednesday—a day characterized by ashes and confession, an entrance into the Lenten season filled with repentance and fasting, building to the hope of Easter.
More and more people are celebrating, commemorating, and lamenting the events of life on social media. This became especially true with the quarantines and social distancing of the pandemic. I enjoy the connections I have made: high school friends, long lost relatives, fellow church members, as well as Bible teachers and missionaries either right in my town or from across the globe.
The platform, like any other, has produced much good as well as been exploited for much evil. One of the most subtle forms of this evil is the self-righteousness produced by extended use. Social media sites have become the place to point fingers at others’ sins, or to promote our own goodness. I believe no one can come away unaffected by the pride and self-righteousness sown there.
Social media can also distort key factors in my walk with God: loving my neighbor through deep, often messy relationship with the grace-filled love Christ offers (1 John 4:16); humility that marks a disciple growing in Christ (Ephesians 4:1-2); and repentant faith in the completed work of Christ (Hebrews 10:16-23).
Ash Wednesday has been marked in different ways for different denominations, but confession is a key component. I have to admit, there have been many Ash Wednesdays, and many other times, when my confession has been at best superficial, at worst false or incomplete—times when I didn’t see any BIG sins that I perpetuated: no felonies or misdemeanors or grievances. This is where self-righteousness rears its ugly head. I know both confession and repentance are commanded in Scripture. God requires it of all of us, but my pride keeps me from being honest.
Kings David, Hezekiah, Josiah, and even Manasseh all humbled themselves before the LORD (see 2 Samuel 12; 2 Chronicles 32, 34, & 33, respectively). Conviction of their sinful acts, and acknowledgement that these were first and foremost against God, led them to confess and repent before the LORD. God responded with deepened relationship and blessing. David teaches us the need for, and treasure of, confession in Psalm 32. Then in Psalm 51 we find an example of true repentant confession from this humbled king.
Seeking forgiveness and guidance should be a part of our daily Christian walk, with Ash Wednesday and the activities of Lent a good reminder and restart to these components of our relationship with God. One list that has been very helpful to me in this endeavor is from a devotional published by John Piper*. There I find I have no place to hide, no recourse but to fall to my knees:
Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37)—not 95%, but 100%.
Love your neighbor as you love yourself (Matthew 22:39). Be as eager for things to go well for him as you are for things to go well for you.
Do all things without grumbling (Philippians 2:14, ESV). No grumbling—inside or outside.
(Cast) all your anxieties on him (1 Peter 5:7, ESV)—so you are not being weighed down by them anymore.
Only say things that give grace to others (Ephesians 4:29)—especially those closest to you.
Redeem the time (Ephesians 5:16). Don’t fritter away the minutes, or dawdle.
Here is the good news: though I have no place to hide when confronted with these obvious obstacles in my walk, I have no need to do so! My omniscient, ever-gracious God knows it all. He has found me guilty; but He has declared me righteous by the blood of Jesus Christ. Alleluia!
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered (Psalm 32:1, ESV).
As I write I look out at three to four inches of snow in my backyard, a gorgeous surprise of a snowfall that lasted all day yesterday. It was so beautiful, so peaceful, and this morning the same beauty persists. But as it melts I see the lake that is still muddy from erosion, the dead branches, and the brown grass beneath the pristine snow. I'm reminded that the outer image very often does not reflect the inner mess, a very helpful analogy as I continue using social media. I also look forward to the coming of spring with its new leaves, green grass, and flowers in bloom—a reminder that God has faithfully made everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:11, ESV).
*You can find John Piper’s How to Repent devotional HERE.