Wednesday, July 27, 2016

When You Fast

Fast - as per Webster's online 1913 dictionary -   verb - 
1.  To abstain from food; to omit to take nourishment in whole or in part; to go hungry.
2.  To practice abstinence as a religious exercise or duty; to abstain from food voluntarily for a time, for the mortification of the body or appetites, or as a token of grief, or humiliation and penitence.

I've been involved in a few discussions recently about fasting, so I'm trying to figure out what it means, and why you should or should not do it.  So, I'm looking up fasting in the Bible.  It seems like it was done mostly as an atonement for sins (1 Sam. 7:5-6), a cry for mercy, or a mourning, as when Saul died (2 Sam 1:12).  People fasted in order to ask help from the LORD, as when Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast for all of Judah because of the fear of their enemies (2 Chron. 20), or the fast of the Jews when Haman plotted to have them all killed (Esther 4).

Jesus also equated fasting with mourning, when he explained that his disciples had no cause to fast while he was still with them (Matt. 9:15).   He also understood fasting as a way to greater faith in God, telling his disciples that they were unable to cast out a devil because their faith was small, and then saying in the next breath that it would only be cast out by prayer and fasting (Matt. 17:18-21). 

The early church fasted when they needed to make decisions (Acts 13:1-3).  Cornelius the centurion fasted and Peter was sent to him to bring him the gospel and baptize him (Acts 10).

I think the best passage about fasting is found in Isaiah 58:1-11 -

 Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.
Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.
4 Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward.
Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
10 And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day:
11 And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.

 So God is not really impressed by our sacrifice.  I guess that makes sense.  He provided the ultimate sacrifice in the life of his own Son.  Anything we could possibly do in our fleshly, selfish way can only pale in comparison.  And simply going without food, entertainment, or comfort is not helpful to anyone.  Our Christian walk is not really dependent on what we abstain from, as much as it is dependent on what we do with our resources.  We could go without food and spend our food money on clothes.  We could sacrifice our favorite TV program and spend the time reading a trashy novel instead.  Whereas we may look like we're doing something for God, we're really just trying to look good without having to suffer.  

God expects us to spend our lives for others, as he poured his out for us.  Going without a meal may do nothing for us or for our relationship with God, but giving our meal to someone who is hungry will go a long way toward building His kingdom here on Earth.  Skipping TV won't help us to hear God's voice if we replace it with anything other than God, but skipping TV to help someone who is sick or in trouble, or using that time to read the Bible and pray, can bring us closer to Him.  

So...Should you fast or not?  I think that depends.  First, search your heart.  Are you fasting to try to convince God to give you something you desire?  Then it is probably not a good idea.  Are you fasting to come closer to what God wants of you?  Then it may be the right thing to do.  I do not find anywhere that we are commanded to fast.  What we are commanded to do is to love one another, and to take up our cross and follow Jesus.  And since the cross is an instrument of death, we are to take seriously the admonition to die to self.  Which means that our desires no longer matter, but only the desires that God has for us.  And that, my friends, is a true fast.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Fighting the Wrong War

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  
(Ephesians 6:12)

It has just occurred to me that we are fighting the wrong war.  We are spinning our wheels, fighting the symptoms rather than the disease.  What happens when you have an infection, but only treat the fever?  The infection gets stronger, because the fever was not the problem, only a symptom.  In fact, fevers are part of your body's defense against infections.  In defeating the symptom, you gave more power to the disease.

We have a war on drugs, a war on cancer, a war on aids, and a war on terrorism.  I am sure there are more wars going on, but these are the ones that come to mind immediately.  But what if all of these wars are not fighting the disease, but only the outward symptoms?  Or in the case of drugs and terrorism, the misapplied cures? 

As Paul said to the church in Ephesus, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood."  Terrorists are flesh and blood, as are drug dealers.  Cancer and aids are part of our flesh and blood.  But they are not the enemy.  Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8  NASB).

We would do better to fight the real enemy here.  Not the symptoms.  

We are fighting against "spiritual wickedness in high places."  And we can't fight spirit with flesh.  The battle is in the spiritual realm.  We have to fight spiritual battles. 

But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.  These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.  But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.  And of some have compassion, making a difference:  And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.  Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.
(Jude 1:17-25)

 Our job is first of all to pray.  And then to have compassion and relieve what suffering we can.  To save those we can, and to keep ourselves in the love of God.   If we do this, we may just win the right war.

Divided We Fall

 And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand  (Matthew 12:25).

I am sad.  I look around, and all I see is division.  Black divided from white.  Democrat divided from Republican.  Christian divided from Muslim.  Man divided from woman.  This is not right.  It is not healthy.  It is not helpful.  And it is not Christ-like.

There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.  Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any:  even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.  And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.  And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.  
(Colossians 3:11-15)

Brothers and sisters, we are in difficult times.  But so was Paul when he wrote Colossians.  It was during the persecution of the new Christian church by the Jewish authorities.  The verse in Matthew is a quote by Jesus.  He was speaking to the Pharisees, who were accusing him of casting out demons by the power of the devil.  In the same chapter, it states that the pharisees were holding a council to determine how to destroy him.

My family and I attend a very small church in a very small town.  But it is one of the most diverse churches, culturally, that I have ever had the pleasure to be a part of.  We are a family made up of blacks, whites, Hispanics; immigrants and people who have lived here for generations; rich and poor; law enforcement officers and former offenders; democrats, republicans, and independents; old people and little children.  And when we meet together, we are one.  We are family.  It doesn't matter what color you are, or how old, or your job or your political persuasion.  We are all brothers and sisters In Christ Jesus.  

Now I realize that this country is not made up only of Christians.  But that is part of the beauty of it.  There is a poem inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.  It is a poem called "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" 

 This is the America that I love.  Not the one where everyone is trying to get their own way and to make everyone else agree with them.  The one that "Glows world-wide welcome."  The America that was built on freedom.  Not Tyranny.  Not Selfishness.  The America that worked together through tough times to come out stronger.  Not the one that fell apart when the going got tough.

We have to get back to that.   We can't let ourselves be divided and conquered.  We have to band together as ONE nation.  White AND Black.  Republican AND Democrat.  Christian AND Muslim.  Men AND women.  And ALL Americans.  That is our heritage.  And it is the only way we will survive.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...