Morning Musing: Mark 2:18

“Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. People came and asked him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the Pharisees’ disciples fast, but your disciples do not fast?'” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Why do you do the things you do? While there very well may be an intentionality to some of them, can I suggest that the reason you do most of the things you do is that they are the things you do? That may sound like I’m talking in circles (I’ll chalk it up to my head still spinning from last night’s presidential debacle…I mean debate), but let me explain. You and I do most of the things we do because we are accustomed to doing them. Again, there are obvious exceptions to this, but most of our lives run on autopilot. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When we autopilot through the little things, it frees up our attention for the big ones. But if we’re not careful, we can put things in the wrong category. Let’s talk about how.

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Morning Musing: Zechariah 8:18-19

“Then the word of the Lord of Armies to me: The Lord of Armies says this: ‘The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth will become times of joy, gladness, and cheerful festivals for the house of Judah. Therefore, love truth and peace.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Last week we spent some time talking about how much God hates religious exercises. Empty religion is an offense to Him. Just like you don’t want someone doing something for you if their heart is not in it, God feels the same. Ladies, if your guy bought you flowers because he felt like he had to, would you be happy? Guys, if your girl got you the latest cool gadget out of a sense of obligation, would you be drawn to her for it? Of course not. Neither does God want religious exercises done out of the same motives. But, just because He hates empty religious exercises doesn’t mean He hates religion. That’s a distinction we don’t often make, but which we must if we want to be right with Him.

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Digging in Deeper: Zechariah 7:2-5

“Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer, Regem-melech, and their men to plead for the Lord’s favor by asking the priests who were at the house of the Lord of Armies as well as the prophets, ‘Should we mourn and fast in the fifth month as we have done these many years?’ Then the word of the Lord of Armies came to me: ‘Ask all the people of the land and the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and in the seventh months for these seventy years, did you really fast for me?’”‬‬ (CSB – Read the chapter)

Have you ever done something for someone a long time only to later discover they either had never noticed or didn’t want you doing it the whole time? That would be a frustrating experience to say the least. But, what if some point early on in your efforts, the other person had communicated her position to you in some way that you ignored? You ignored it and forgot about it and kept right on doing whatever it was. That changes things, doesn’t it? Now who were you really doing it for? It wasn’t her anymore. You were really doing it for yourself. Well, what if the object of this unwanted affection were to be God?

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Stand Down

In this third part of our teaching series, Stand Up: How to Fight Injustice, we finally start talking about action.  We’ve spent the previous two weeks establishing a baseline from which to begin our fight.  This week the fight begins…but not where we might expect it.  Our battles against injustice begin best not on our feet, but on our knees.  Keep reading to see how this plays out through the story of Esther.

 

Stand Down

One of our good friends in Virginia is a handyman who enjoys woodworking.  Prior to living there and getting to know Rod, the only time I had ever done any woodworking was my junior high shop classes—classes which I thoroughly enjoyed and was pretty good at.  I still have most of the things I made.  Rod and his wife, Pat, had the gift of loving us and they did it well and in a number of ways.  One of the ways Rod did this with me in particular was to let me come down and play in his shop and create.  I only got a few projects finished before our growing family reduced the time available for woodworking to nil, but I enjoyed every minute of it.  Some of my favorite projects are a spice rack/cookbook shelf that’s hanging in the dining room and a toy bulldozer that was intended to be for the boys to play with until I realized how quickly they were going to break it relative to the number of hours that went into making it at which point it became a display piece.  Well, Rod liked to collect t-shirts with inspirational or funny messages on them.  One of my favorites was one that was perfect for the novice woodworker.  It read: Measure twice, cut once, curse, go by more wood, repeat. Read the rest…

Digging in Deeper: Isaiah 58:3-8

“Why have we fasted, and you see it not?  Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?”  Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.  Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.  Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.  Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself?  Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?  Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?  “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps 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 him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”  (ESV – Read the chapter)

This is a bigger section than I usually include, but the context is important.  Fasting was a part of the regular religious rituals of the people of Israel.  By the time Jesus was walking around, this was even more the case.  There were in fact as many as three regular fasts a week for the most religiously devoted of the group.  On these fasts, they would wear special clothes, rub ashes on their faces, heads, and hands, and often moan loudly about how hungry they were.  And the people would marvel at how dedicated they were to God.

Let’s call this what it was, what Isaiah some 700 years before blasted it as: Religiosity.  As I’ve said before, God wants nothing to do with this.  These fasts were empty displays of devotion that gradually became ends in themselves, rather than means to something else, namely, a deeper relationship with God.

Today, we don’t practice fasting much.  It is not a regular part of the modern church.  This goes for my own life and practice as well.  While this does allow us to avoid the religiosity of the people of Israel, we generally do a good job of finding other ways to pursue that.  In removing the regular spiritual discipline of fasting, I am of the mind that we have left ourselves short an important tool in our spiritual growth.

Fasting can be a spiritually rich practice that points us well in the direction of greater devotion to and trust in the Lord.  But, just like the people of Israel did, we have to practice it properly if we want it to be of any lasting benefit to us rather than merely a religious exercise that leaves us little more than hungry.

What Isaiah offers here is some rich advice for how to get it right.  The most important part of the spiritual discipline of fasting is not the mechanics of it, but the goal toward which it is aimed and the intentionality with which we pursue that goal.  While we typically think of fasting as involving an intentional avoidance of food, that doesn’t have to be the case.  The point of fasting is that we are removing from our lives something on which we normally depend to get us through the day, and replacing that thing with intentionally seeking the Lord.  Every time we have an urge for whatever is the particular object of our fast, we seek the Lord through prayer and the Scriptures.  Instead of scratching that particular personal itch, we serve someone else in order to see their needs met.

As for the goal of fasting, we are seeking a deeper connection with God in our own lives and a more practical outworking of that connection in the world around us.  This is what Isaiah is getting at when he talks about God’s preferred approach to fasting being these various pursuits of justice and righteousness in the world around us.

Because of our taking up the discipline of fasting, what has happened in us and in the world around us?  How has our own devotion to God grown and how can someone who knows us well see that?  How has the kingdom of God been unleashed and advanced in the world around us more fully and who has been the beneficiary of this?  If we can answer these questions with meaning and substance, then our fast has been something worthwhile.  If we cannot, it was little more than ritual.  Better even than this would be to frame out our intended answers to these questions before we do the fast so that we have something by which to evaluate our efforts on the back side.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline worth adding to our regular practice of the pursuit of God.  But, it must be done with the right spirit and the proper aim lest it risk being a waste of our time.  What are some ways you can begin to explore this practice in your own life?  It will be worth your time.