Reflections on Fasting…

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:16-18 NIV

Jesus warns us not to practice our pious acts in front of others – not to do them so others will think us pious or holy. So I hesitate to share these reflection on my fast this week but will do so anyway.

As a nearly life-long type 1 diabetic, fasting from food has been a challenge for me and nearly always caused more physical issues than spiritual blessings. So this week, as part of a challenge I issued to my church, I decided to fast from television (including the streaming video services to which I subscribe).

Fasting intrudes     Fasting disrupts our normal patterns and practices. It interrupts the flow of the daily. It jars us from our habits. And it reminds us that God intrudes. The Incarnation and the Resurrection – intrusions into the natural order and the flow of history. If God works in such a way at the macro level, fasting opens the way for God to work at the micro level of our lives and contexts.

Fasting reminds us that we are creatures of appetite   Fasting from television and video, for instance, does not produce physical hunger. But when we fast or abstain from anything the hunger for it is more obvious because it is unfulfilled. By not feeding the hunger or longing we may grasp a deeper sense of the hungers God wants to fill — and the need to hunger above all things after the Giver of all things.

To fast is to choose    We are creatures of habits and hungers – but need they control us? Are we not more than hungers? More than habits? To choose to not satisfy them reminds us of the power of human freedom and choice given us by God. And the need we have for God’s power and love to shape our choices and to empower and guide our wills.

This week I have had several breakthroughs in answer to prayer. Some offered a way forward when none seemed apparent. Others changed my perspective on some question whose answer I was sure I knew. Fasting has been a part of this journey and will be again.

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Needing to Pray (I’m Back)

After a two-month sabbatical, I am back. Too much inside wanting out and needing a place to say it. I am not returning to my attempt to post every day but something more than I have been doing.

What prompted this return is a journey of prayer. Last fall I attended a Breakthrough Prayer training hosted by my annual conference (think state-wide church organization for non-United Methodists) and our church began a journey of breakthrough prayer. What it has done for our church I am not yet sure. What it has done for me has been phenomenal – even miraculous. Today is the first in a series of posts on this journey.

What is breakthrough prayer? It is interceding with God for God to do what only God can do. Maxie Dunnam, former president of Asbury Theological Seminary and long-time pastor and writer, asks this question:

What if there are some things that God either will not do or cannot do until and unless we pray?

What if this is so? What if God only does some things if we pray? This question is the essence of breakthrough prayer. God can do all things – but only does some when we pray. James assures us that:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17 NIV)

What if some gifts only come when we ask? Because we ask?

As we’ve made this journey in our church I have found this idea disturbing or difficult for many people. God knows what we need. God knows what we want. Why do we need to ask? I have found even a resistance to the idea and to the doing of it.

The answer, in part, lies in our need for demonstrations. It isn’t enough to love my wife and children and for me to know they know it. I need to tell them, to show them. God wants us to ask. The long thread of biblical narrative on prayer supports this. As does the long line of witnesses to God’s activity in the world and in human lives.

I’ll come back to this verse next time because it is part of a larger argument made by James. But for today –

You do not have, because you do not ask God. (James 4:2d NIV)

Today, why don’t you ask?

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Taking a Break… More or Less

 

I started writing this blog a few years ago. I am not sure I thought much about what I intended to do here. Mostly it was a journal that a few other people read from time to time. I love to write and this gave me a place to do it. . Of late I have not been very disciplined in the daily Life Journal entries either which has become the main source of entries here.

So I am taking a break. A blog isn’t really meant to be an online journal but that is what this became. And those thoughts and ideas and ramblings are probably best kept somewhere private. My domain still has a fair amount of time left so I may return but I doubt it. I am not really cut out for blogging and it is better to not do something than to continue to do it half-heartedly.
Thanks to those who have read and responded! I appreciate your encouragement and interaction. I post this mainly for you few I know do read what I post faithfully so you won’t wonder where I went.

 

Grace and peace-

Randy

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Life Journal (11/17/2015) – Saying Hard Things

Scripture    2 Corinthians 7:8-13

For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it (though I did regret it, for I see that I grieved you with that letter, though only briefly). Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves guiltless in the matter.12 So although I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong, nor on account of the one who was wronged, but in order that your zeal for us might be made known to you before God. 13 In this we find comfort.

Observation

  • Contrast between godly grief and worldly grief

Godly grief                                             Worldly grief

Leads to repentance                             Leads to death

Brings no regret

 

Application

No one likes to hear hard things – I included! No one likes to be told he or she has done wrong. Or that something needs correction.

A few times in my life someone has told me something I didn’t want to hear but needed to know. A word of advice. A truth I didn’t understand. The reality of a situation I hadn’t known or understood. Sometimes it made me angry or strained a friendship. But always, always, always it let to my good.

I am not talking here about carping or ad hominem attacks or people who are negative about everything and everyone.

God can bring about real change in us when we really listen. God uses people whom we trust to tell us things we can trust but may not like. Godly grief leads to better things in Christ. More of it may be what we need, not less.

Prayer

Lord, you grieve me only for my good. Your grief brings repentance, growth, and life. Make me sensitive not to my feelings but to the voice of your Spirit speaking to me through others this day. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Life Journal (11/12/2015) – Working the Spirit

Scripture     1 Corinthians 12:1-7

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Observation

  • What does it mean to be “uninformed?” (unaware, not to have the information one needs to know)
  • Speak: contrasts between idols that could not speak and the Holy Spirit who can prompt people to speak.
  • Contrast, too, between what the Spirit does and doesn’t say
  • Varieties of gifts – one Spirit, varieties of service – one Lord, varieties of activities – same God (Trinity?)

Application

How does the Holy Spirit operate in our lives? Some thoughts from Paul…

(1) To proclaim that Jesus is Lord. The Holy Spirit always points to Jesus and one cannot claim to be moved by the Spirit and not proclaim Jesus is Lord.

(2) Varieties of gifts, services, and activities (some use effects instead). In each case the idea is something supernatural and unmerited. Gifts/endowments not deserved… services that would only happen under the Spirit’s influence… the obvious effects of the Spirit’s power. But all come from the same Spirit

(3) The Spirit is not primarily working for individual good but the common good. This is a huge distinction from the overly personalized and individual way we talk about the Holy Spirit.

How is this made real in me today? .Is the Holy Spirit’s work for the proclamation of Jesus as Lord being done in and through me? Do I operate in a spiritual power that is beyond what I could do (or what I think that I deserve) in my own sense of giftedness? Is the common good being done though my works or are they about me and mine?

Prayer

Holy Spirit, today proclaim in and through me that Jesus is Lord. Give me gifts that I do not deserve, opportunities to serve that are beyond my comfort, and make real in me this power that only you bring and that works for the common good, the good of the body. In the name of Christ to Whom You point… Amen.

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Life Journal (11/9/2015) – God Built This

Scripture     1 Corinthians 4:6-7

I have applied all this to Apollos and myself for your benefit, brothers and sisters, so that you may learn through us the meaning of the saying, “Nothing beyond what is written,” so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?

Observation

  • What does this saying mean “Nothing beyond what is written?” to Paul and to the Corinthians?
  • Paul is writing so that they may benefit from what he wrote
  • Result – that none may be “puffed up” (most English translations use this same phrase!)
  • The “puffed up” is in regards to whom they follow: Paul or Apollos
  • What they have, they received (from God is the implication)
  • Boasting is not something we do with a gift

Application

Several years ago during the Presidential campaigns the phrase ‘I built this’ came into use. The suggestion was that no one had given the sayer of this phrase anything but had earned it by hard work. Setting aside that past political argument, sometimes I think in my heart ‘ I built this’ in looking at my life.

One of the great truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that all that I have is from God. My faith and life are a free gift received through faith in Jesus Christ. My personal circumstances are not something I earned but received from God. Any good in me, any good in my ministry, any good in my life comes from the Giver of Every Good and Perfect Gift.

It is hard to be “puffed up” about what I have been given – not something I have earned but been blessed to receive. And a gift can only make me humble. That someone – God – would give me such gifts! Nothing to brag about or get a big head about. Nothing I have or am comes from my work or smarts or worthiness. Ultimately it is all God’s gift.

Prayer

Lord, I confess my being ‘puffed up’ at times – even often. Why should I be proud of what is your gift. Why should I boast of what I have no control over – so much of my life might seem to be mine by luck or chance but is, in fact, from you. May I humbly receive all that you have given including this day. In the name of the Great Gift, Jesus, I pray. Amen.

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Life Journal (11/6/2015) – Working Too Hard

Scripture     Galatians 3:1-5

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

Observation

  • Bewitched: Greek word means “to malign” and “to fascinate by false representations”
  • Repetition of word “foolish”
  • Contrasts, contrasts: works of law vs. belief in words heard, Spirit vs. flesh, repetition of works vs. belief
  • What did they receive: Spirit, working of miracles
  • Spirit is “supplied” and “received”

Application

Many of us work too hard at faith. Or at acting out our faith. When I was a candidate for ministry completing the initial mentoring process, the mentor assigned to me wrote in a letter that I struggled with grace. By extension I think with faith too.

Paul chastises the Galatians for their sliding into believing that their works under the law of Moses were what mattered. Am I much different? I work hard and there is always more to do. I try and try and end up frustrated at the results. But God is into the Spirit-giving, miracle-working business. Not the law.

Where, today, do I need to work less and trust more? Where, today, do I need to receive more and reach for less?

Prayer

Come, Holy Spirit, and replace my striving with your presence and power. Nothing I do matters apart from your presence and my having acted not out of a need to do but out of response to your presence in me and your miraculous doing. Come and do today what I cannot. Come and bring your peace and your rest through faith and not through anything I can do or attempt. In the name of Christ. Amen.

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Life Journal (11/5/2015) – Not on the Internet Either

Scripture     Job 28:12-13

“But where shall wisdom be found?
    And where is the place of understanding?
13 Mortals do not know the way to it,
    and it is not found in the land of the living.

Observation

  • Wisdom contrasted with the riches of the earth (precious metals and later the abundance of the earth’s produce)
  • Wisdom is compared to these riches but also contrasted
  • Repetition of images of finitude: mortals, land of the living
  • Mortals don’t know how to find it AND it cannot be found in this land/world (wisdom that is)

Application

I am a huge fan of the internet and of today’s technology, The information and resources available instantaneously are incredible. My son was working on a science fair project and had to do note cards. How many trips to the library would that have required and how many hours just to find the resources let alone read and digest them?

In some ways I think the same could be said for wisdom. It appears that wisdom is easily found. Every day I see numerous Facebook quotes and memes that speak words that grab people’s attention. But I wonder if people are really wiser, more enlightened, more spiritual even?

Job observes that like the riches in the earth, wisdom is inaccessible to the naked eye, It cannot be seen easily but unlike the precious things in the depths of the earth no amount of digging will unearth God’s wisdom. Wisdom comes from God who is not in the depths of the earth. God is not “findable” except to the degree that God reveals and directs.

It is worth my remembering today that wisdom is not found in any searching that does not direct itself toward God and toward the One who is Wisdom!

Prayer

O God, you are wisdom. You are the great treasure and truth for which our souls long. Greater than any riches I might receive or find are you. May I treasure you so. Humble me, O God, that I may know I cannot be wise on my own or grow in my own strength but in yours and in your wisdom. Amen.

 

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Life Journal (11/4/2015) – No Answer

Scripture Mark 15:2-5

Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Observation

  • Pilate asks Jesus twice to respond – once he does with “You say so” and once he doesn’t answer at all
  • Pilate is amazed that Jesus doesn’t answer the charges against him

Application

As I read these words again from Jesus’ trial in Mark’s gospel I wonder if Jesus doesn’t defend himself in part because he doesn’t defend himself today either. We are forced to respond to Jesus in faith. We must accept the reality of God or not based on what evidence there is. God will not be accused nor indicted.

Even as a Christian I think I sometimes want God to prove Himself. “Ok God, I believe you. Now prove me right.” I follow Jesus but at times I want a reassurance of where the road leads, of what the blessings will be. And generally the answer in the moment is silence.

For me today it says to act on my faith as it is and where I am. To respond in faith to what I know of Christ right now and not to expect God to justify Himself to me or for Christ to vindicate my faith in any particular moment. Faith means that when challenged by circumstances I lean into Jesus and say, as he did to Pilate but with a different meaning, “So you say.” And so I am challenged to respond to the one who would not answer for himself.

Prayer

Lord, sometimes you are silent. I do not hear your voice and I am unsure of what to do or how to proceed. In my heart I confess that I accuse as Pilate did. I want you to answer, to defend. But I know enough and have experienced enough to know the answer and to know the way through the presence and the life of your Spirit. Amen.

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Life Journal (10/30/2015) – Evil Self-destructs

Scripture    Mark 5:1-5

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

Observation

  • Mark continues to focus on the forces of evil
  • This man has supernatural strength: breaks binding, chains, irons on his feet
  • Man also lives among the dead
  • Harms himself due to this evil presence

Application

In his fictional but incredible take on Adam and Eve Perelandra, C.S. Lewis’s protagonist observes:

“on the surface, [there were] great designs and antagonism to Heaven which involved the fate of worlds: but deep within. . . was there, after all, nothing but a black puerility, an aimless empty spitefulness . . .”

At its heart, evil is nothing but destruction, blackness, the ultimate antithesis of all that is good, and light, and life.

The man who lived among the tombs illustrates this so well. Afflicted with and controlled by a demonic presence, he lives among the dead and not the living. Just as he is unable to be bound by physical restraints he is also unable to live among the constraints of human society and of his faith. He also is self-destructive and probably would have lived a much shorter and certainly hellish existence apart from this deliverance.

Evil cannot endure because, at its core, it is empty and puerile as Lewis observes. It cannot sustain life let alone enhance or give it. It is an empty shell of a promise that leads to nothing. Jesus, however, offers something just the opposite.

Prayer

Lord, all around me I see that evil and wrong destroys and does not create. It ends and never begins. It kills and never births. Even when it seems to bring pleasure it is only in the way it corrupts and twists the good. Remind me today that Christ will triumph over Satan, that through his continued intercession and ministry that good will trump evil. Amen.

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