Sunday, December 15, 2019

Emmanuel: God With Us--God Incarnate!

It is December, a time when we are reminded to focus on the Advent, or coming, of our Lord Jesus Christ.  While traditional celebratory activities generally dominate the landscape of our days, believers understand that Christmas is all about Christ.  

But just what does it mean to focus on Christ during this season of Advent?  Some Christians admonish us to keep Christmas in perspective, that Easter is the really important Christian holy day.  Others would remind us that we need to be looking for Christ’s second Advent, when He comes to initiate His kingdom.  Both of these perspectives have merit: Christ’s coming is in fact culminated by His death on the cross on our behalf.  And even while Christ was on earth as God incarnate, He admonished His followers to be prepared and watchful for His return.

Any consideration of Christ’s birth would benefit from the inclusion of Easter and His return.  But the more I consider Christ as God incarnate, the more I believe that there is plenty to ponder in the incarnation.  Beyond the mystery of the event itself is the reality that Jesus Christ, our Creator, walked among us as God and man.  Can we imagine His joy at experiencing His glorious earth, or the agony of seeing what His creatures have done to it and to one another?  His mission was to proclaim the kingdom of God and to call men unto Himself for eternal relationship and glory.  In doing so, He demonstrated the love, grace, mercy, and power of our God.  It seems to me that He must have felt both incredible sorrow and enormous satisfaction in straightening one of His creatures who had been twisted by sin.  His abhorrence of death was highlighted by His raising to life a few who had died.  But even as He wielded His redemptive power, He knew His miracles were only temporal.  

Without minimizing the horror of the cross, I would like to suggest that Jesus’s time on earth as God incarnate before the crucifixion also consisted of enormous suffering.  As He walked among us, He could not escape seeing the destructive wages of sin.  His creatures bloodied and broken, sick and dying.  All creation groaning.  And any relief that He would provide, while satisfying, was only a down payment for the future.  As we deal with our own sin and suffering during the celebratory Christmas season, it might be constructive to resist jumping ahead to Easter and/or the second coming of Christ.  We would do well to consider that Jesus hates our suffering more than we do—He knows what we’ve lost; we can only imagine a life without sin and the fall.  And then we get to what scholars sometimes describe as the “now and not yet.”  Jesus has come; He has made us His own; He has promised to complete the work He began in us and to bring us to heaven as heirs of the Father.  But the trumpet has not yet sounded.  We remain fallen people in a fallen world.  As we wait for the culmination of the kingdom of Christ, may we take comfort and joy that our Lord and Redeemer is waiting alongside us.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Food To Eat, Clothes To Wear

 For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  (Matthew 6:25)

These well-known words of Jesus are often used as an antidote for anxiety, and this passage is an excellent resource for this purpose.  Our pastor preached on this passage not long ago, reminding us take care to not let worries over our needs distract us from pursuit of the Lord and His kingdom.  The women of Perisseia looked at this passage as part of a series on anxiety.  But as we head into the holiday season, it seems to me that this passage can be a most helpful caution about the busy-ness that could distract us from the spiritual business at hand.

The Apostle Paul reminds us to give thanks always.  As important as this message is, we take time in November to pay particular attention to cultivating a thankful heart and identifying our abundant blessings as we give praise to the Giver of all good gifts.  And then Christmas follows Thanksgiving and we are called to remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, the Messiah, our Savior and eternal Lord.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are significant holidays, worth celebrating.  They give us a wonderful opportunity to build and reinforce relationships and bless those who are less fortunate. But as we plan our celebrations, questions as to what we will eat and what we will wear are unavoidable.  I plan our holiday meals with a good bit of care, and as we approach Christmas, each of my children and grandchildren (as they become old enough) are asked to choose their favorite sweet treat for me to make.

The challenge is, of course, to plan and prepare appropriately within the context of Jesus’s words.  I can plan and prepare for holiday celebrations without becoming anxious and without becoming distracted from the real God show.  May God Incarnate enable us by His Holy Spirit to take His words to heart and consider that food, drink, and clothing are only the accessories of this season of gratitude and celebration.

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Lonely Only

After the Lord created man, He observed that it was not good for Adam to be alone.  And while the animals God created were plentiful, diverse, and wonderful, not one was a suitable mate for Adam.  Adam needed a companion of his own kind, like him.  As creatures made in the image of God, we are, at the very core of our being, made for relationship with Him and with one another.

God created mankind to first and foremost have unrestricted relationship with Him and then to exercise relationship with one another in managing His creation.  Relationship with their Creator would define their identity and value and provide significance and security.  This foundational relationship would make it possible for person-to-person relationships to develop without tension or conflict. 

But when Adam and Eve chose pride over obedience, their capacity for relationship became a casualty.  No longer satisfied to find their identity and value, significance and security in their relationship with their Creator, they turned to one another to have those needs met.  And so began a new strategy to feel good about themselves: compare and compete.  By the time Cain and Abel came along, we see Cain take this to the extreme—when his offering was not as well received by the LORD as Abel’s, he eliminated the competition.

As King Solomon has observed, there is nothing new under the sun.  As a matter of practice, we humans look to one another to find ourselves.  The consequences are devastating.  We continually find ourselves falling short of cultural (even Christian cultural) standards and looking to fit in and to meet the expectations of our peers.  And as we do so, we lose sight of who we are in Christ and short-circuit the process of becoming who He has created us to be.

If we find ourselves not fitting in, feeling like we don’t belong, not able to go with the flow, we find ourselves feeling alone.  My experience in high school was one of isolation as I sought academic challenge in a learning environment that expected mediocrity.  Our adopted daughter Ruth struggled with feeling that she did not fit in at home among her light-skinned family members and at school as she faced learning disabilities that her classmates did not share.  Some young men feel like they’re the only one among their friends who isn’t athletic, or tech-savvy.  I often hear young women bemoan the fact that they’re “the only one” who isn’t married or at least dating, or the only one without a baby.  Cancer patients are often encouraged to participate in a support group so that they do not feel alone.

It is lonely to be alone.  Aloneness is not good.  We are created for relationship.  But our experience in society does not tell us the truth.  We are never alone.  Our Creator is always with us, and we have a place of belonging in Him and in His body, the church.  He always intended us to find ourselves in Him and not depend on one another for this basic need.  This is a crucial truth because only our Creator knows how He has designed us.  And when we try to tell the potter that we want to be the kind of vessel that is like other vessels, we are failing to appreciate the creativity of the Lord of the universe.  The Apostle Paul regularly used the human body to exhort his readers to appreciate their unique roles in the body of Christ.  We can also use Paul’s analogy to appreciate the unique roles the Lord has created our brothers and sister to fill.

There may indeed be times when we are an “only.”  But those times are wonderful opportunities to appreciate who we are in Christ and to remember that only does not mean alone.  And as we support and encourage one another to be and become who the Lord has created us to be, being an only does not need to be lonely.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Justification By Faith

Those who consider themselves to be Christians embrace a fundamental Biblical truth: we are justified by faith in Christ. We trust that Jesus’s sacrificial death on the cross on our behalf has satisfied our sin debt before God. And so we stand before God’s throne clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Justification by faith is a theme that runs through the New Testament. It is a prominent topic in the letters of the Apostle Paul. Paul frequently found it necessary to exhort those under his care to remember that a believer’s life of faith requires dependence on the Lord for their justification and not on their Christian performance. Salvation—righteousness before God—is a gift that we receive when we enter into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ.  Salvation by faith and not by works was at the heart of Martin Luther’s reformation message.

I often remind my counseling clients that bond-servants of Christ are the freest people on the planet. We are free from the penalty and power of sin. We are free from the opinion and expectations of others (even and perhaps especially ourselves). And, we have nothing to learn and nothing to prove.

Justification by faith is not merely about our relationship with the Lord. It is my experience and observation that even while we trust the Lord for our justification before Him, we relate to others as if we have something to prove. How often, when we are confronted by someone who has been hurt by a manifestation of our sin nature, do we say, “I was just….” ? We may trust Jesus to restore our relationship with Him, but we nonetheless feel the need to try to justify ourselves—never successfully—in our relationships with others. 

Please consider with me the relational power that Jesus offers us if depend upon Him for our justification as we deal with others. If Jesus is the source of our identity, value, and security, then we have the freedom to engage with others without the need to prove our worth. We need not defend ourselves when our sin nature surfaces. Instead, we can confess and repent. In doing so, we exercise important spiritual muscles as we rest in who we are in Christ. And, we bless the person we have hurt as we affirm their worth instead of defending our own. As we depend upon our Justifier, we become better able to build deeper and more intimate relationships with one another, which in turn reinforces our relationship with our Lord. It is in our relationship with the Lord and in our relationships with our brothers and sisters that we can truly know the joy of the Lord, and it is in the expression of these relationships that others will know us by our love.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Becoming Ourselves

"The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become--because He made us. He invented all the different people the you and I were intended to be.... It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own."

                                                                                                              C.S. Lewis
                                                                                                              Mere Christianity

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Law Of Love, Part 2

Matthew 22:34-40:

But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question,testing Him, 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38“This is the great and foremost commandment. 39“The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40“On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

In my last Chapel Challenge installment, I made some observations about Jesus’s powerful words recorded in Matthew 22.  It is essential for believers to make the connection between loving God and loving others.  There is a fundamental truth that our love of God manifests a dynamic faith-relationship with our Lord, and it is in the context of this relationship that the Holy Spirit does His work in us and enables us to love Him in return and to love others.  We love, because He first loved us (I John 4:19).

But there is a third component to this passage: We are to love others as we love ourselves.  The inference is that we have an appropriate regard for ourselves and exercise commensurate self-care that we can then translate into an appropriate regard and care for others.  I suspect that trying to put this law of love into practice often leads to confusion for some and frustration for others.  Many of us do not love ourselves well; nor do we know how to do so.  

It is only as we accept and come to experience God’s love for us that we can begin to truly love ourselves.  Most of us spend a good part of our days and our lives trying to become or prove ourselves lovable and to hide any evidence to the contrary.  We gather symbols of success and serve the opinions and expectations of those around us in order to be perceived as “nice” or “good.”  We justify our unkind words and insensitive behavior and distance ourselves from them as quickly as we can.  But we are not nice, or good.  Our attempts to demonstrate our lovability fall short.  We are left with the awful truth that we are indeed difficult to love. And since we know ourselves and our shortcomings better than anyone else, each of us is in the position of knowing just how difficult it is to love himself/herself.  Our unloving words and behavior simply expose the truth that we are sinners in need of a Savior and Redeemer.

We are loved by the Creator and Lord of the universe.  As astounding as that is, it is one of the central truths of God’s Word.  This is where love and life begin!  It is also where we can begin to love ourselves. God loves us as His personally created expression of Himself, uniquely designed to glorify Him as we pursue the good works of eternal significance for which He has created us.  We are image-bearers of God with eternal significance. When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we become heirs of heaven, princes and princesses of the King.

God loves the world and everyone in it. But it is only by faith that we can access that love and establish a love relationship with the Lord.  Believers are in the unique position of seeing God’s personal love for each of us as his uniquely created image-bearer of Christ.  We are loved because God is the lover.  He loves us regardless of our appearance or performance. We do not earn or merit God’s love.

And herein lies the challenge.  We are sinners, and it is all too easy to follow our prideful sin nature and try to do life ourselves.  Like Eve, we are the perennial two-year-old who insists that “I will do it myself.”  Even as we know that God loves us and Christ died for us, we want to feel worthy of that love.  And so we focus on performance.  Our inevitable shortcomings in the performance arena remind us that we are not as lovable on our own as we would like to be.  And if our response is to simply try harder to perform we will continue to encounter those reminders; a performance mindset also leads to a competitive perspective that will never help us to feel worthy of love (there is always someone “better”).  At the same time, the insistent and demanding competitor within us makes it all the harder to love others.

This conundrum brings us back to the initial concept of this passage: our love relationship with the Lord.  God is love.  It was for love that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 58). It is in and through Christ that we are known and loved anyway.  By grace through faith we encounter Love Incarnate; as we experience the powerful, tender, unconditional love of our Creator and Redeemer, we become better able to love ourselves without the ball and chain of performance.  And as we become able to love ourselves, we are in a position to genuinely love others without needing anything back from them.  To be sure, our fallen nature can make it exceedingly difficult to feel beloved and then make the translation from beloved to lover; but persevering in this exercise is at the heart of Jesus’s words.  

We are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind.  As we pursue a love relationship with the Lord, we are brought into His presence. Relationship is about knowing: we open ourselves to be known by God, and we also come to know Him.  The give and take of this builds a new perspective. We are, on our own, filled and covered with the ugliness of our sin.  There is nothing we can do to cleanse ourselves.  But God is the Lover, and He loves us anyway!  We are beloved!  As we experience God’s love and try to love Him in return, we are brought deeper into the mystery of God’s love.  Trusting in Christ as Lord and Savior means that He has covered our sin and we are ugly no more.

Loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind is a response to His love of us.  But as we do so, we are changed.  He becomes more; we become less of our prideful selves and more of who He created us to be.  We become able to accept being a beloved heir of the King and find less need to earn it or prove it.  As William Young would say, learning to live loved is an expression of our love relationship with our Lord.

As we walk in a growing love relationship with our Lord, and as we love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind, we learn to rest securely in His love and in our identity as an eternally beloved child of God.  We are better able to see our God-value and exercise self-care and stewardship over what the Lord has entrusted to us.  Our relationship with the Lord defines us, and we have no need to see others as a means to feel good about ourselves.  Loving others becomes a dynamic and powerful fruit of loving the Lord.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Power of Truth

"You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality."

                                                                                                     Ayn Rand

Friday, July 12, 2019


"While in other sciences the instruments you use are things external to yourself (things like microscopes and telescopes), the instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if man's self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred--like the Moon seen through a dirty telescope."
                                                                                           C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A Doctor's Advice

"Let's get it right.... Never be cruel, never be cowardly.... Remember, hate is always foolish, and love is always wise.... Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind...."

                                                                                 Dr. Who
                                                                                 (From one doctor to the next)

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Law of Love

Matthew 22:34-40:

But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Although this Gospel passage is very familiar, it has always intrigued me.  The Pharisees are challenging and testing Jesus, looking to discredit Him. Jesus’s answer to the lawyer’s question about the Law is fully consistent with the Old Testament, but I find the irony of it to be stunning—The rule-bound Pharisees are confronted by the heart of God, who uses law not as an end or the means to self-righteousness but as the means to His ends: love and relationship.

Jesus teaches that loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind is the greatest commandment.  Since God is a spirit, it is not always easy to know what this looks like, how to do it.  I believe that there are several components to loving the Lord.  King David modeled a pursuit of God that while imperfect nonetheless enabled him to become a man after God’s own heart. It is also important to remember that love is fundamentally a God thing. God is love. Love is a fruit of His Spirit as He works in us.  Our ability to love God is dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

Our ability to love God is also linked to our ability to love others, our neighbors.  It is only as we pursue God and experience His life in us can we truly love others.  We often try to separate the two or emphasize one over the other.  But loving God and loving others are intimately interconnected. As we sink more deeply into the Lord’s presence and allow Him to transform us, we participate in His nature and become able to love others.  And as actively engage in loving others, our primary relationship with the Lord is strengthened and stretched.

In some sense at least, loving others is more tangible than loving God.  And as we seek to love others, we find that our failures in this arena expose our weaknesses and areas of brokenness in our primary relationship with the Lord.  Although we may try to minimize or deny the exposure, it is God’s provision to help us repent and grow toward Him.  If we find that we are looking at others with disdain, use their weakness to feel better about ourselves, struggle with impatience toward them, impose our expectations on them, or forget that they are image bearers of God’s eternal glory, we are in need of God’s work of sanctification within us.  If we excuse our lack of love by blaming the other party or our personality, nature, or circumstances, we will miss the opportunity to meet the Lord in a powerfully healing way.

But if we embrace the exposure of our lack of love as God’s invitation to draw near to Him and open ourselves to the work of His Spirit, we free the Lord to do His work in us.  As we come to recognize our pride and self-centeredness, we can allow our failures to love to drive us back to our Lord and Redeemer. We draw closer to our Lord, Savior, and Redeemer, and as we do so, we find that we are able to love more truly and more joyfully.

Our text makes another association with loving our neighbor: we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  This raises all kinds of questions, challenges, and difficulties as loving ourselves becomes incorporated into loving God and others.  Please stay tuned for this aspect of loving God!  Meanwhile, please consider that loving God and loving others is more than an expression of Old Testament Law and Gospel history.  Loving God and loving others is at the very heart of who we are and who we are becoming in Christ and an integral part of our life in Him.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Thought For The Day

“I doubt if there is any problem in the world today—social, political or economic—that would not find a happy solution if approached in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.”

                                                                                    President Harry S. Truman

Sunday, May 12, 2019

It's Who You Know....

In a recent sermon at Windsor Chapel, Pastor Andy Straubel referred to the common phrase, “It’s who you know.”  The phrase is a close cousin to, “Friends in high places.” Both idioms reflect the pride, satisfaction, and even power and privilege that often comes with knowing someone who is important in the world.  And in our current status-focused culture, who you know may matter more than a little. But only for a wink of time.

It can be easy to get caught up in our celebrity-fixated culture.  Shoppers spend hard-earned money purchasing tabloid newspapers in order to be more “in the know” about their favorite celebrities.  Fans of musical groups wait in endless lines not just to see a performance but with the hope of catching an up close and personal glimpse of one of the its star performers.  In a recent Yankee game, a fan caught the first home run ball of a new player.  In negotiating the ball’s return for this player, the fan got an opportunity to meet some of the Yankees in the clubhouse after the game.  

In the end, though, there is only one relationship that can give us what we truly want and need: a foundational relationship with Jesus Christ.  Christ is indeed a friend in the highest of high places!  He is our Creator and Redeemer.  Because of His death on the cross on our behalf, we are justified in the eyes of the Almighty and are assured of a place in the company of the Triune God for all eternity.

Knowing Christ is about more than stamping our ticket for heaven, or for getting that selfie and sharing it on social media. Knowing Christ is about the ongoing pursuit of a dynamic, intimate relationship with the Lord of the universe. He abides in us, and we abide in Him. We experience the healing power of being fully known and loved anyway.  As bond-servants of Christ, we serve a Master who delights in us and who will never leave us or forsake us.  We find our identity as we partake in the very nature of Christ and the joy of exercising the gifts He has given us in fulfilling the eternally significant purposes for which we were created.  We come to know the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, so that by faith we can move mountains.  And we enjoy the privilege of being son and daughters of the Most High God.

This brings us back to where we began.  We can be name-droppers!  We know the Creator and Lord of the universe.  That puts us in a unique position to declare not only His name but His goodness to others.  As we proclaim Christ in what we say and do, we invite others to trade their worldly focus on fame and fortune for the eternal glory of Christ and His kingdom.

“More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowingChristJesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ….”

Philippian 3:8

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Lion of Judah and Lamb of God

The Bible is full of rich metaphors, word-parables so to speak.  One of my favorites is Christ depicted as the Lion of Judah.  We get our first hint of the connection at the end of Genesis when Jacob-now-Israel blesses his twelve sons before he dies.  These sons represent the twelve tribes of Israel, and none is more significant than the tribe of Judah.  In Genesis 49:9-10 we read:
                        Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He couches, he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
The scepter shall not depart form Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

Numbers 24:9 records the prophet Balaam repeating part of Jacob’s prophecy, and it is generally recognized as an early proclamation of the coming Messiah, Christ.  The expanded and fulfilled prophecy is proclaimed in Revelation 5:5:
…and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the
book and its seven seals.”

But Christ is not always depicted as a lion, as a fierce ruler.  The prophet Isaiah describes the Messiah as a lamb that is led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7).  This imagery is potent and powerful.  When the Lord used Moses to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt, He gave instructions for each household (or group of households) to sacrifice a lamb—the Passover Lamb—and paint their door lintels with its blood in order to escape the imminent judgment that was coming upon Egypt.  The sacrifice of lambs for sin was an integral part of the Old Testament Law. 

When John the Baptist proclaimed to two of his disciples that Jesus was the Lamb of God, there were a few dots to connect.  Many and probably most Jews anticipating the coming of the Messiah were looking for a king, for the Lion of Judah.  And here was a lamb, blameless to be sure, but not even particularly attractive.  The concept of the Christ suffering and dying was abhorrent to the Apostle Peter (Matthew 16: 21-23), and we can be sure Peter was not alone in his perspective.
And so we come to the point of Easter.  Jesus was not sometimes the lion and sometimes the lamb. He was not merely both the lion and the lamb.  He is the Lion who became the Lamb.  He died for us that we might rule with Him.  Again, the fifth chapter of Revelation gives us a glimpse of what this will look like:
And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

Evangelical Christians often claim Christ as their Lord and Savior.  It is the Lion-Lamb who we celebrate at Easter.  May we appreciate both elements of His character and celebrate with joy and gratitude.

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.