I don’t know about you, but Sunday’s sermon on Fasting was very eye-opening. I too must admit that fasting is not a regular practice for me either except for during the season of Lent. I have always been of the understanding that fasting was a practice that was about denial and giving something up, and I have not had the discipline to do this consistently. However, as we explored a new way of understanding the practice of fasting during worship, I began to feel the weight of this opportunity more.
As a reminder, Pastor David laid out four reasons why fasting should be a part of our faith practice.
It creates a deeper connection with God
Fasting is an invaluable teacher that allows for appreciation about our abundance
Fasting teaches us about our values, priorities, and motivations
This practice is most effective when fasting from becomes fasting to
What I would like to dive into more this day is how we move into a deeper appreciation for our abundance. We are a blessed people. We have more than we could ever need or want. We have been given so much and I am constantly surprised by God’s goodness toward me. One of the lessons I will forever remember from my time in seminary is that “Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” To afflict is to affect or trouble, or to distress so severely and I would label myself as one that is comfortable. I know that in comparison to the rest of the world, life is pretty good for me, and if you are reading this on your phone or IPad, in a heated home, maybe while you are enjoying a cup of coffee, I would say that life is pretty good for you too. Is it wrong to be comfortable and have an easy life, no, not at all. But our lives of comfort and convenience can lead to an off-balanced perspective. If we grow too comfortable, we can easily forget how grateful we are for the abundance in our lives.
I believe that the practice of fasting helps recalibrate our off-balanced perspective. Maybe it is because I have traveled extensively or served on mission trips early in life but I feel like I am constantly fighting the battle of excessiveness. I see it when I walk into my children’s play-room and see more toys and playdoh and costumes than anyone should ever have. I see it in my refrigerator when we don’t eat all of our leftovers and we throw away food that ends up forgotten about and wasted. I see it in my closet with the extra shoes and the pairs of jeans in many colors and styles. And this is just my home, my family, my world…what about yours?
What can fasting teach us, as a blessed and wealthy community about our abundance? Remembering that fasting is not about guilt; it isn’t practiced to create shame about the fact that we have more and spend more than a lot of other communities. But it is to realign our priorities and values around people and not things. I am having this conversation with my children constantly about the importance of people over toys and sharing over stubborn ownership. We talk a lot about thankfulness and not asking for more. We start struggling with this as children and it continues in us throughout adulthood. At some point in all of our comfortable lives we begin to assume that our comfortableness is owed to us and this endangers our appreciation of God’s abundance toward us.
And so I invite you into this space with me as I am repenting of the excessiveness in my own life not to wallow in guilt but to step out of my bubble and thank God for all that I have been given. Would you join me in this space?
What can you be thankful for this week that you have in excess and what can you fast from? I have been giving thought since Sunday as to how I might fast this next month from something like caffeine, or extra shopping. And how I might move from the denial phase of what I used to think fasting was into the blessing phase of what it actually is. For instance, can I use the excess food I have in my fridge to make a meal for a family in need or for a colleague at work? Or how can I use the time that I normally spend online shopping instead to write an encouraging note to a friend or reading my Bible. These are just a few examples of how you might apply a practical implication from Sunday’s sermon on Fasting this week.
In the end it isn’t about what you give up or even what you take on; it is the position of your heart. It is in the daily and hourly acknowledgement of the goodness of God and the abundance of resources, support, and opportunities we have all been given. What might the Holy Spirit be speaking into your heart this week?
As we continue our study of Nehemiah, I recall a formidable book I read early in my first years of ministry. It is called Follow, by Floyd McClung and essentially it walks us through the simple and profound call to live like Jesus.
On Sunday, Pastor David shared about the practice of Confession in his sermon and then yesterday, Pastor Philip walked us through a prayer of Communal Confession in his devotion. Tied to the practice of confession is Repentance and so I wanted to share a new perspective about what the role of repentance can look like in our lives. McClung defines Repentance like this, “a change of mind about the direction we are going, how we have been living and what we have believed about God and the world.” He goes on to explain that repentance is much more than a feeling of remorse or wishing we hadn’t done something that has backfired on us. And so we might ask the question before we confess, how do we know if we have truly repented?
Well, I think it starts by knowing the difference and there is quite a difference between Godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. Godly sorrow is REPENTANCE and Worldly sorrow is REGRET. Can you feel the difference? Repentance implies that, if we had the opportunity to commit a sin again, we would not. But regret suggests that we would do it again in such a way as to try to avoid the consequences or make sure we aren’t caught. Said another way, true repentance (which leads to confession) occurs when we begin to see sin from God’s point of view, because as we grow closer to the heart of God we begin to realize that what we do affects God deeply.
On Saturday night, after coming home from a nice time with family, Emmaline and Charlie raced each other to the bathroom (they are in the competitive stage of sibling life right now). Charlie got there first and promptly slammed the door while Emmaline put her hand out to stop him. Her pinky finger got caught in the crossfire and pinched in the door. I have never heard her scream like she did, and the look on her face will be forever seared into my “Mommy-Memory.” In that moment as she screamed and I screamed and Charlie fumbled with the door, I was terrified that her little finger was broken. I was simultaneously furious with Charlie and deeply concerned for Emmaline. I felt both love and hate in the same moment and it broke my heart. It felt like minutes passed but probably only a few seconds passed and the door was opened again. Emmaline and Ryan were nursing her finger and I was dealing with a three-year-old who now knew he was in deep, you know what…
What Charlie did next was apologize because he was in trouble, not because he had hurt his sister. In those next few moments, he was feeling worldly sorrow. Charlie knew he was in BIG trouble, had angered his parents and knew that he was in the wrong. But it wasn’t until he saw his sister’s swollen finger and her tear-streaked face that the feeling shifted for him and he realized that his actions had not only hurt his best friend but his parent’s heart. That was the moment that he switched from regret to repentance. I commented to Ryan later that night after I had calmed down that I felt like I know a little bit more about the complicated love God has for each of us. God feels anger towards one child that has hurt the other and at the same time love and concern for the one that has been hurt.
I believe a part of our confessional life is being honest about which sorrow we are really feeling. Are we able to make repentance that leads to confession a part of our lifestyle and not just something we do on a monthly basis on Sundays in worship? When repentance becomes our lifestyle, we are deciding that we are going to deal honestly with things as they come up in our lives. I invite you to reflect on this Scripture, 2 Corinthians 7:10-11.
“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.”
And I invite you to reflect on these two questions:
- Have you ever experienced the difference between world and Godly sorrow; how have you learned the difference?
- Is there someone you need to go to in order to make things right?
Most holy and merciful God,
we confess to you and to one another,
that we have sinned against you
by what we have done and by what we have left undone
We have not loved you with our whole heart, mind and strength. In this we have chosen pleasure, prosperity, and pride over your Holy Spirit’s leading.
We have not fully loved our neighbors as ourselves. We confess our part in systemic sins such as racism, poverty, power, and violence.
We have not always had in us the mind of Christ. We confess our desire for what we want more than what you want for us.
You alone know how often we have grieved you by wasting your gifts, by wandering from your ways.
Forgive us, we pray, most merciful God;
and free us from our sin.
Renew in us the grace and strength of your Holy Spirit, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Savior.
Good Morning Church Family! Let me be the last person to wish you a Merry Christmas! Yes, today is the last day of Christmastide and I hope it has been a beautiful season for you and your family and that if you traveled and engaged with extended family, that you are now home safe and not sick. Today marks the end of the 12 Days of Christmas and tomorrow we celebrate Epiphany, or Three Kings’ Day and celebrates the first manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, or non-Jews.
This morning at Trinity Christian Academy, on the Reeves campus, I had the privilege of teaching Chapel to our 3’s, 4’s and VPK students and we talked about the Christmas season and I finished the Christmas story with the narrative of the wise men, or the magi. It was perfect that I was teaching this story in that place, because with the flip of a switch, I was able to illuminate the beautiful stained-glass window that sits in our Sanctuary space there. The stained glass is called, The Adoration of the Magi and I invite you to schedule a time were you can go and see it while it still remains in our care for a while longer. This morning in Chapel, I told the children about the Magi or Wise Men and how they had traveled so far, for so long. I told them about the gifts they brought to 2-year-old Jesus and how that is partially why we give gifts at Christmas. And then I shared with them the last theme of the story, and what I would argue is the most important part of the Wise Men’s role.
I told our Preschoolers and then had them repeat back to me, that NO MATTER HOW FAR THEY GO, GOD WILL ALWAYS LOVE THEM. You see the story of the Wise Men is for me the story of the long journey back to God. Some people are lucky enough to get in on the action the night of the birth of Jesus; I’m talking of course about the Shepherds. Then there are others that will miss the story of Jesus because they are busying themselves with keeping their business going and are too distracted to see what is happening in their own barn, on their own property; I’m talking of course about the Innkeeper. And then there are those, who I see represented in the Wise Men, that take a long time to get into the Jesus Story. Maybe their journey is longer than two years, maybe it is closer to two decades or even longer. Maybe their journeys start with a fascination with the stars or math or literature, but something urges them on and they decide to follow after a long time of finding their influence elsewhere. I have to say that the story of the Wise Men or the Magi encourages me that no journey is too long and no person is too far to reach Jesus, the Christ.
Maybe that gives you hope. Because you have a child, or a grandchild, a friend or a partner that has been on their own wandering journey, for what seems like far too long and they have yet to reach Jesus, the Christ. You have prayed for them, talked with them, loved on them and yet, they still seem so far away. The story of the Wise Men reminds us not to lose hope and teaches us the importance of the star. There is something about the star that urged the Wise Men on, that kept pointing the way. The star remained bright and constant and consistent and ever-guiding so much so that the Wise Men continued when the journey was arduous. They didn’t stop because they ran into obstacles or encountered dishonest people. And they didn’t give up hope when the journey took much longer than they had planned or imagined. They kept following the star and their persistence was rewarded.
I wonder if you and I are like the Star? Are we remaining bright and constant and ever-guiding the people we find around us? Are we looking for the joy and the light amidst the pain and darkness? Are we consistently being people of our word, grounded in the hope of Jesus and are we good tour guides who are consistently pointing the way to God? I hope that in this new year and amidst new challenges that you would invite God to show you how to be a bright Star to those “Wise Men” around you. I also invite you to come and see for yourself this beautiful stained-glass picture of The Adoration of the Magi at Reeves. I’m there every morning dropping my son off at school and I would love to show it to you.
Grace and Peace to you, and Happy New Year!