Tonight you will be celebrating your very own version of Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is the French phrase for "Fat Tuesday" and also known as Carnival and Shrove Tuesday, the last day before the beginning of Lent, a period of fasting and repentance leading up to Easter. Traditionally, it is the day for eating up the last of the rich foods that remain in the house and for having a big party before a long period of discipline and repentence. Today, far less people observe Lent, but more people than ever celebrate Mardi Gras. What do you think of when someone says Mardi Gras?
I usually think of beads, parties, and New Orleans, but there is a much richer history associated with the celebration, and I want to teach you a little about that tonight. In our church, we celebrate Lent as a season of fasting or giving up something, in order that we might focus on God for that period from Ash Wednesday until Easter, about 46 days. You may remember that Jesus himself did some fasting. Matthew 4:1-3, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘if you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘it is written: ‘man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that come from the mouth of God.’”
So, the period of fasting is about drawing yourself closer to God, and it requires some discipline. I remember a couple of years ago I gave up Soda for lent. I grew up with a Pentecostal background, and then started attending a Baptist church, and then I started on staff here at CCC about 4 years ago, so this was actually my first time doing Lent. If you’ve ever given up something for that period of time, then you know that it’s not easy. I drink about 2 sodas a day, so that was extremely hard for me, but I was able to get through it. I can tell you at times, I was tempted to drink a soda, but because Jenni, my wife, did that with me, it was a little easier.
Mardi Gras can also be called Carnival. Since it’s the day before the beginning of Lent, I suppose that many people see it as the last day they get to consume something they are fasting from. Carnival is taken from the Latin meaning “to take away meat.” Carnival is supposed to be a celebration. There’s a phrase that goes along with Mardi Gras, that says, “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, for tomorrow we die.” It basically means that today is the day to live, because tomorrow is gonna stink. People today can take that phrase to mean that we’d better party while we can, and that’s why when you think of Mardi Gras, you think of those parties and wild living, but there’s more to it than that.
Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 says, “Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. 19 And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. 20 God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past.”
The Bible tells us that we should enjoy life! I think that’s in part what Mardi Gras is all about. It’s about enjoying life, and seeing life as a gift from God, and living life like you mean it.
John 10:10 (NLT) says, “10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” Jesus says that he has come to give you a rich and satisfying life. A life that is abundant, overflowing, generous, exuberant, and extravagant. It’s a life that people only dream of having, and Jesus has come to give it to YOU!
So, if Jesus is offering this, then how do I cash in? First of all, you’ve got to accept him as your savior. If you’d like to do that, then all you need is to do is say a simple prayer, and believe in your heart that Jesus died for you. If there’s any of you that would like to do that right now, then I’m going to give you that chance. Let’s all bow our heads, and repeat after me, “Jesus, I believe that you died for my sins, and came to give me an abundant life. I admit that I’ve been living for my purposes, and I want to surrender my life to you right now. Help me enter into a life of living for your purposes. AMEN.” If you said that prayer for the first time and believed it in your heart, then I believe that you’ve been born again. You’ve become a Christian. If you did that would you just raise your hand. Your leaders have a card for you to fill out.
Now, after you know that you’re a Christian, what else do you have to do to have this abundant life?
I have to warn you…the abundant life doesn’t necessarily mean that God is going to let your mom or dad win the lottery so that you can have all the coolest new gadgets, and you won’t have to go to school anymore, and you get to eat junk food all day. You’ve got to understand that God’s view of life, and our view of life is different. John 17:3 says, “now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” God’s definition of life, more specifically eternal life, is that you get to know God! He doesn’t mention here getting rich, or being healthy, having a great family, or great friends. He says that eternal life is that you get to know God! Living abundantly means living life as God lives it. As humans, we’re so concerned about material things, but our perspective should change once we get saved. Colossians 3:1-3 says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” We need to be about those things above, like knowing God, and He’ll show us what living abundantly means. You guys remember David? He knew what that meant to live abundantly. He says in Psalm 23:5-6, “you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Check this out (Cup of Water/Pitcher). If I have a pitcher of water, and I want to fill up this cup, I just start pouring it. You can see this cup as half empty or half full, but what if I keep pouring into it. Picture the pitcher of water as God, and you’re the cup. If you know God enough that he continues to pour into you, then your life will soon become a life that is overflowing or abundant. You’ll know God so well that he just pours out of your life onto other people.
A little kid once asked his mommy about Jesus. He said, “mommy, is it true that Jesus lives inside of me?” His mommy said, “yes. He lives in your heart.” The little boy was confused, and said, “if Jesus lives inside of me and he’s so big, and I’m so little, shouldn’t he stick out?”
That’s the question I have for you. Is Jesus sticking out? Do you want the kind of abundant life that overflows, the life that Jesus is sticking out for others to see? Let’s live life like God intended. Let’s have fun, let’s eat, drink, and be me