Monday, June 25, 2012

On Misunderstanding Fasting Part 2

“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8.3, NIV).

According to Scot McKnight, “Fasting is a person’s whole-body, natural response to life’s sacred moments.” In his book, Fasting, Scot introduces the topic by referring to some biblical texts that do not match up with our contemporary notions of fasting. Scot is correct (at least for this American Evangelical) when he asserts that most of focus on results when it comes to fasting. Generally speaking we determine (on our own) the desired result and then go to God with the big gun of fasting in order to convince him to do what we want. Scot first drew our attention to Psalm 35.13-14 where King David prays for the healing of his enemies to demonstrate that the Bible speaks about fasting as a Whole-Body Act.

Furthermore, the Bible declares that fasting must “lead to compassion of others” and if it doesn’t God would prefer we not fast.

Is not this the fast that I choose:
            to loose the bonds of injustice,
            to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
            and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
            and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
            and not to hide yourself from your own kin? (Isa. 58.6-7)

Scot instructs us that these words from Isaiah should stay at the center of our thinking about fasting. In other words, fasting should never become a private religious practice that is designed for my own “personal spiritual growth.” Along with all the “spiritual disciplines,” fasting must lead to compassionate love for your neighbor otherwise it will easily drift into “self-righteousness and self-absorption.”

Does your Bible reading and prayer time lead to care for others or is it simply an act of piety where you “hide yourself from your own kin” and then go about you day feeling righteous because you “had a quiet time.” That is not the kind of spiritual life God would choose for us.

Monday, June 18, 2012

On Misunderstanding Fasting

18 June 2012

“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8.3, NIV).

After our worship gathering yesterday, I enjoyed a fantastic conversation about fasting. This got me to thinking about one of the many books on the “need to read” pile, Fasting, by Scot McKnight. While sitting in my new Adirondack Chair (a Father’s Day gift) I began reading this morning. Before I could even make it through the Introduction, I exclaimed (inwardly of course – it was before 6am), I have to share stuff with my Church family!!

Scot begins with a brief definition, upon which he promises to expand. “Fasting is a person’s whole-body, natural response to life’s sacred moments.” Right away we should notice that fasting is responsive. It seems to me that when most of think about fasting we first consider, “How will God respond to my fasting?” In other words, fasting can become a tool to get God to respond to us instead of whole body response of ours to a sacred moment. More later on how fasting can digress into divine manipulation.

It is at this point we must ask Christ to take our thoughts about fasting captive to the witness of Scripture. For example how many of us would consider fasting on behalf of a sick enemy? King David did that exactly! 

Ruthless witnesses come forward;
            they question me on things I know nothing about.
They repay me evil for good
and leave me like one bereaved.
Yet when they were ill, I put on
and humbled myself with
When my prayers returned to me
I went about mourning
            as though for my friend or brother.
I bowed my head in grief
            as though weeping for my mother (Psalm 35.11-14, NIV).

We are now faced with an example of where modern conceptions of fasting have gone awry. Before this morning, I had no category in my brain for fasting on behalf of my enemy who was sick. Did you? I could imagine fasting so that my enemy would become sick, but not because of grief over his sickness. But when we think the way the Bible speaks about fasting, we understand that fasting is not about getting something we desire. Rather, fasting is about responding to life’s sacred moments. 

At his point I have more questions than answers when it comes to fasting. But I look forward to chewing on this wisdom from Scot (pun intended!). I also look forward to any interaction we might have over the often-misunderstood topic of fasting.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Jesus' Expectation for Prayer Gatherings

For your own sake and for the sake of the world, Jesus wants you to prayer regularly with other believers. Jesus doesn't have some narcissistic need to be included in your daily routine, but he and the other persons of the Godhead have so shaped the world that God's people are invited to approach The Control Room of Creation, Heaven, in prayer. Listen to the words of Jesus. 

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For there two or three gather in my name, there I am with them (Matthew 18.18-20, NIV).

More than once I have heard N.T. Wright assert that "according to Jesus, heaven is earth's control room." What's more, Jesus tells us in Matthew 18 that heaven and earth come together in him and heaven responds to the requests of those who have gathered. 

Jesus is with us when we gather on Wednesdays to ask things of Jesus' Father in heaven. He is with us in a way he is not with you in your "prayer closet." So please, for your own sake and for the good of the world, gather with other believers to agree on earth together and "it will be done for you by Jesus' Father in heaven."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

O how I love the reality of the Trinity!! 


O Most Holy Trinity
Undivided Unity,
teach us the gentle deference
of your dance of surrendered love
how with infinite tenderness
and utmost esteem
you so gently
are present
to one another.

Teach us your perichoresis,
your grand circle dance,
where you eternally birth joy
from the womb of reverence.

Teach us your unending,
enfolding regard
for the pure holiness
you hold and behold.

sweet breath and the lungs of creation,
eternally giving,
and eternally receiving
are filled.

You release and bind,
but never push nor pull.
You hold accountable,
but never blame.

You incline yourselves to one another
as a grove of green willows
bending in the breeze
bowing to each other’s grace
known and cherished
on the broad plain of mutuality.

Deepen our trust, O Blest Community,
that we may enter such intimacy.

Loretta F. Ross

Monday, June 11, 2012

Manna from Monday

“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8.3, NIV).

I am doing my best to “get into” biographies. When I consider those who have influenced me most and whose ministries have blessed me significantly – they are folks who are always reading biographies. Hebrews 11 and 12 exhorts us to consider the lives of the faithful saints as one way of “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” So take up and read Christian biography!!

At present, I am reading Eric Metaxas’ critically acclaimed biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a brilliant scholar who felt called of God to minister on behalf of all kinds of people, even children, within the context of ministry in a local church. Early in his ministry he spent two years in Grunewald ministering to the children of a small parish. Listen to his love for these kids as he describes his farewell to them. 

I spoke about the man with palsy and especially about the assertion that your sins are forgiven, and tried once more to disclose to the children the core of our gospel; they were attentive and perhaps a bit moved, for I spoke, I think, with some emotion. Then came the farewell…. The congregational prayer has long sent shivers down my spine, and it did so incomparably more when the group of children, with whom I have spent two years, prayed for me. Where a people prays, there is the church; and where the church is; there is never loneliness.

After leaving Grunewald, Bonhoeffer found himself in Paris, on his way to BarcelonaSpain with a friend. It was in Paris that he had this formative experience while attending a church service in Sacre’ Coeur.

The people in the church were almost exclusively from Montmartre; prostitutes and their men went to [church], submitted to all the ceremonies; it was an enormously impressive picture, and once again one could see quite clearly how close, precisely through their fate and guilt, these most heavily burdened people are to the heart of the gospel. I have long thought that the Tauentzienstrasse [Berlin’s red-light district] would be an extremely fruitful field for church work. It’s much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer, a praying prostitute, than a vain person praying. Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity.

Please notice how crucial prayer was to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Later on in his life, he was faced with unimaginable stress and the threat of torture. He credits his daily discipline of prayer and Bible meditation with the ability to not fall apart under extreme circumstances. Please consider joining us for our weekly prayer gathering this Wednesday at 6pm.  Blessings.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Manna from Monday

“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8.3, NIV).

In December of 2007 I learned the sad news that one of my theological heroes had died – Thomas F. Torrance. I recently received a theological biography of sorts that describes how Thomas Torrance did theology and more specifically how he approached the Scriptures. Jesus’ words in Matthew 11.27 formed much of Torrance’s work

All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal to him (NIV).

What Jesus is saying here is that we do not know God unless Jesus has revealed God to us. A.W. Tozer famously said, “What we think about God is the most important thing about us.” What Jesus is telling us and what Thomas Torrance reminds us of is that if our thoughts about God don’t begin with Jesus, then it is not the true God who is occupying our thoughts. The Son is the image of invisible God (Col 1.15) because God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Col 1.19). The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Heb 1.3).

What are your first thoughts about God? Does Jesus shape your God-thoughts? God has willed that we know him through his Son, Jesus. May God’s Spirit move each of us to take every thought about God captive to Jesus Christ.  

"What Jesus was on earth God is forever ... What God is toward us in Jesus Christ, he is eternally forever." ~ Thomas F. Torrance

When you see in the face Jesus Christ the face of God, you know that you have not seen that face elsewhere and could not see it elsehow. ~ Thomas F. Torrance