Wednesday, February 13, 2019

An Extended Fast

Last month, churches across the United States in a 10-day fast for spiritual renewal.  The Christian Union generated this initiative to encourage believers across the country to seek the Lord and place the church in a position to experience the Lord’s power in ministering to a culture that is in desperate need of God’s truth and grace.

While the Christian Union emphasized a focus on refraining from eating food, many pastors broadened the fasting concept to include any activity that might interfere with a focus on the Lord.  I very much appreciate this concept, and as I’ve considered how the Lord would call me to participate, it has occurred to me that many of my indulgent non-edible habits that would be good candidates for fasting are in fact not good for me. Ever.

There are good reasons to fast from food.  Our Lord did so before He started His public ministry.  It is a good way to be reminded that we do not live on bread alone but by the power, Spirit, and Word of God.  It is also a way to “reset” our priorities and affections to reflect our faith. And fasting from food encourages us to confront any ways that we express our sin nature by abusing food.  But God made us to need food and He created food to sustain us.  We cannot refrain from food indefinitely.  Food is a good blessing from our heavenly Father.  

God gives us other blessings, non-food blessings, that we also distort and pervert to please our sin nature.  Whenever we use some thing or some activity to feel good about ourselves apart from God, whenever we depend on this thing or activity to earn or prove our value, that thing or activity becomes an idol.  It separates us from God and limits what He can do in us and through us. A fast that encompasses such things and activities is appropriate.  Some of these things and activities are like food: they are necessary and good.  For example, we need to shop in order to acquire what we need.  But shopping can also be perverted: we can develop a habit of shopping that is more about feeling good than it is about satisfying genuine needs.  Exercising can fall into this category, as can ministry that becomes more and more about us and less and less about our Lord.  The possibilities are, tragically, limitless. Other things and activities—also limitless—are in a different category: neither necessary nor good.  Gambling and gossiping leap to mind as good examples. 

A call to prayer and fasting is a powerful invitation to come before the Lord to be known and sanctified, to become equipped and empowered to serve the Lord and advance His kingdom’s purposes.  We can join King David and come before the Lord, to ask Him to search us and know us, and to reveal our lifestyle patterns that reflect our sin nature rather than our faith relationship with Him.  Prayer is a crucial component: our hearts are deceitful, and we are not capable of identifying our “pet” sins.  But as our sin is revealed, we must confess and repent.  Fasting from ingrained sin patterns may be a good start toward spiritual growth and maturity.  Some of our favorite sin patterns may in fact be food-centered, but others may involve behaviors other than eating.  A fast from those things and activities that the Lord reveals as problematic is an excellent Biblical prescription for spiritual renewal.

In a typical fast, we eliminate meals or all food for a short period of time.  But we appropriately return to eating when the fast ends.  However, as prayer and fasting reveal unnecessary things and activities that pull us away from the Lord, we have an opportunity to extend the benefits of a fast, to pursue an extended—indefinite—fast from those activities in order to put aside every encumbrance to a life of faith.  We would do well to consider carefully what a time of prayer and fasting reveals to us.  It may be that when our time of prayer and fasting has been concluded, extending a fast from idols and sinful habits will enable us to experience a richer relationship with the Lord and exercise a more powerful witness in the world. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Thought For The Day

"Problems are opportunities in their work clothes"


                                            Whiting Bible Church
                                            Manchester Twp.,  NJ

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A Lesson From History


Two years ago this month marks the two-year anniversary of our granddaughter’s emergency surgery when she was just nine days old.  Although she appeared healthy at birth, our granddaughter was born with a congenital condition known as malrotation.  Her intestines did not develop properly, leaving them predisposed to twisting. Such twisting makes it impossible to digest food and cuts the blood supply to the intestines.

No one in our family had ever heard of malrotation that morning two years ago.  My husband and I were on a plane en route to northern Iowa to meet the newest addition to the family.  When our plane landed, we learned that our new granddaughter had been vomiting “highlighter yellow” fluid and had been sent to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, by their local doctor.

By the time we arrived at Mayo, testing was completed.  We had a brief opportunity to meet our new granddaughter before the pediatric surgeon rushed her into surgery.  Not more than an hour later he returned, joking about the bad coffee and reassuring us that she was just fine.  He also commented that the surgery had been just in time to save her intestines.  Our granddaughter recovered quickly and without complications.  It is fair to say that her parents and grandparents took longer to recover from the event.

Several months later, this same granddaughter experienced another bout of vomiting.  Again, “highlighter yellow” fluid.  Her parents quickly returned with her to Mayo, where testing reassured them that she was “just” vomiting.  During their follow-up visit with the doctor a couple of weeks later, he reassured them that once he “fixed” the malrotation problem, it remained fixed.  

There are a few aspects to this part of our family’s history that make the history quite relevant to the spiritual considerations that often accompany a new year.  Although I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, a new year is a good time to deal anew with our sin problem in the context of our faith. 

Often, our sins are hidden from us, much the same as our newborn granddaughter’s medical condition.  We seem like nice people.  We don’t lie, cheat, or steal.  Nevertheless, we are fallen people in a fallen world.  We are sinners.  We need to come before the Lord and ask Him to reveal what we cannot see, the subtle and not so subtle ways we have failed to love.  This is not something we can do ourselves.  We need professional help, so to speak, to save us from our sin before it kills us.  King David certainly appreciated the Lord’s revelatory work in his life: “You have searched me and known me.”

And just as our granddaughter’s condition needed immediate treatment, corrective measures must be taken once our sin has been revealed.  Confession and repentance: a change in heart, thought life, lifestyle.  Sometimes the corrective measures are dramatic, and spiritual surgery is necessary to remove the root of sin: “If your righteyemakes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”  Sin is serious and life-threatening and must be treated as such.

Finally, we must depend on the Lord’s forgiveness and His sanctifying work in us.  Lingering guilt is one of the most potent weapons of our enemy, the accuser. But just as the pediatric surgeon fixed our granddaughter’s problem, our Redeemer has provided an ongoing and permanent fix to our sin problem: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  We need not and must not rehearse our forgiven sins: when we do so, we presumptuously play God and focus on ourselves rather than on Him.  Although we will undoubtedly continue to sin, we can continue to confess and repent and depend on the Lord’s forgiveness and redemptive work.

Living in a sinful world is tough, and our own sin makes it even tougher.  But praise the Lord!  He has not left us to die in our sins.  Jesus died to cover our sins so that we can enjoy a restored relationship with Him. He has given us His Word and His indwelling Spirit to reveal our sins and lead us to confession and repentance. So while we do need to seek His professional spiritual help to correct what threatens our spiritual well-being, we no longer need to live in guilt and fear.  Instead, we have the incredible privilege of living in faith before our Lord who became God Incarnate to die for our sins, who guides and guards us and is preparing us for our place in His kingdom.