The Glory of Fasting :: Weekend Reading List

Faith, like generosity, grows when a person transfers their focus outside of themselves. By prioritizing those around us we experience growth—the same happens when the object of our faith becomes our heart’s joy and priority. When generosity and faith combine a person experiences the glory of the two greatest commandments: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great. — John Chrysostom

The season of Lent, which begins next Wednesday, is marked by fasting. “In Scripture, we see that fasting is a sign of sorrow over sin, a sign of repentance, and an aid to prayer,” observes Kevin P. Emmert. Yet if these were the only reasons to fast it would not have made sense for Jesus to fast 40 days before beginning his ministry—Christ had no sins for which to be sorrowful or repentant and lived his life in direct communion with the Father.

In his article—titled as a call to action—A Lent That’s Not For Your Spiritual Improvement, Emmert writes,

The truth is Christ didn’t forego privileges and battle for humanity for only 40 days. The scene of Jesus in the wilderness is a synecdoche for his entire early life—and ultimately his incarnation… Christ made himself nothing by becoming a servant. He did not use his divinity to his own advantage, as Paul put it, but largely to walk a life-long path of self-sacrifice.

Christ’s whole life was lived on behalf of others, a continuous pursuit of others’ wellbeing. And Christ’s fast in the wilderness is a crucial example of that reality.

The ancient Jews expected the Messiah to grow in power and control—instead Jesus grew in wisdom and favor with God and man. They expected him to conquer and overthrow—instead he sacrificed and served. Emmert continues, “If we want to imitate his life and his fast to the degree we can, then we should consider fasting on behalf of others—that is, for their benefit and blessing.”

Perhaps this is why Jesus insisted that he desired “mercy, and not sacrifice.” Part of Christ’s fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures was calling his followers to embrace God’s vision of fasting given through the prophet Isaiah:

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?

Isaiah’s prophecy is one of total transformation—the salvation of marginalized and oppressed actuated by the people of God growing in faith. Fasting—sacrificing—in such a way that others benefit is the very way we ourselves grow. “The mercy of God is a proclamation made to the world, a proclamation which each Christian is called to experience at first hand,” writes the Pope. In a Lenten proclamation the pontiff continues:

In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy—counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer—we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need.

The glory of fasting is found in what it does for others. Maybe we fast from meat or coffee and donate the money we would have spent to organizations who feed the poor. Maybe we give up plastic for the benefit of the environment and those most harmed by its decay. Maybe we abstain from time-wasters like online video-streaming or non-essential iPhone apps to invest in relationships we don’t normally have margin for. Regardless of the steps we take by God’s grace, Emmert reflects,

Lent is not just about personal holiness. Nor is it about pursuing simplicity of life for its own sake. Lent also has a remarkable social dimension. As pastor and columnist Chuck B. Colson said, “Lent gives us the opportunity to move towards our neighbor in charity” because it “emphasizes simplicity for the sake of others.”


Today’s Reading
Job 4 (Listen – 2:06)
Romans 8 (Listen – 6:22)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 5 (Listen – 2:29)  Romans 9 (Listen – 5:15)
Job 6 (Listen – 2:56)  Romans 10 (Listen – 3:21)

Weekend Reading List

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Spiritual Warfare :: Throwback Thursday

By Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843)
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind. — Romans 7.22-23
A believer is to be known, not only by his peace and joy, but by his warfare and distress. His peace is peculiar: it flows from Christ; it is heavenly, it is holy peace. His warfare is as peculiar; it is deep-seated, agonizing, and ceases not till death.

Before a man comes to Christ, he hates the law of God, his whole soul rises up against it. The law is the breathing of God’s pure and holy mind. It is infinitely opposed to all impurity and sin. But natural men love sin, and therefore they hate the law, because it opposes them in all they love.

Unconverted men quarrel with the law of God because of its strictness. If it extended only to my outward actions, then I could bear with it; but it condemns my most secret thoughts and desires, which I cannot prevent.

When a man comes to Christ, this is all changed. He can say, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” He can say with David, “O how I love thy law: it is my meditation all the day.” The law is no longer an enemy. In Christ you will find rest.

Yet, in the heart of the believer there remains the whole members and body of an old man, or old nature: there remains the fountain of every sin that has ever polluted the world. So in the heart the lusts often lie quiet till the hour of temptation, and they war against the soul.

There are two great combatants in the believer’s soul. There is Satan on the one side, with the flesh and all its lusts at his command; then, on the other side, there is the Holy Spirit, with the new creature all at his command.

Have you experienced this warfare? It is a clear mark of God’s children. Learn to be humbled by it, but not discouraged. You need the blood of Jesus as much as at the first. You never can stand before God in yourself. You must go again and again to be washed; even on your dying bed you must hide under Jehovah, our righteousness.

Take up the resolution of Edwards, “Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.”

*Abridged from Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s sermon, A Believer Delights in the Law of God.

Today’s Reading
Job 3 (Listen – 2:32)
Romans 7 (Listen – 4:09)


Real Freedom

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. — Romans 6.17–18
The proposition of Christianity is not, live free or submit yourself to Christ. Instead, the gospel challenges its hearers to recognize the way things of this world enslave and disappoint—and to abandon those things for Christ.

“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism,” David Foster Wallace said in his famous talk This is Water. “There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”

The influential author went on to explore that in comparison to the divine, “pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.” Paul’s suggestion that we become slaves to Christ isn’t a surrendering of freedom, it’s the beginning of freedom from the masters that destroy human flourishing. Foster Wallace continues:
If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning in life—then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you… Worship power—you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.

Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.
Paul calls the faithful to submit to Christ: “Just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” In other words, the more you double down on your commitment to things which cannot fulfill, the more you get hurt—give yourself now to Christ, only he is sufficient to meet the deepest longings of your soul.

Foster Wallace concludes, “Freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.”

Today’s Reading
Job 2 (Listen – 2:11)
Romans 6 (Listen – 3:28)


Suffering is Not for Nothing

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. — Romans 5.3-5
Malcolm Muggeridge said, “Supposing you eliminated suffering. What a dreadful place the world would be because everything that corrects dependency of man to feel over-important and over-pleased with himself would disappear. He’s bad enough now. But he would be absolutely intolerable if he never suffered.” Muggeridge gets at the heart of what I want to say. It’s not for nothing. Now how do I know that?

The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. Out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things that I know about God. The greatest gifts of my life have also entailed the greatest suffering. The greatest gifts of my life for example have been marriage and motherhood. And let’s never forget that if we don’t ever want to suffer, we must be very careful never to love anything or anybody. The gifts of love have been the gifts of suffering. Those two things are inseparable.

When I stood by my short-wave radio in the jungle of Ecuador in 1956 and heard that my husband was missing, God brought to my mind the words of the prophet Isaiah, “When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee.” You can imagine that my response was not terribly spiritual. I was saying, “But Lord, You’re with me all the time. What I want is Jim. I want my husband.”

We had been married twenty-seven months after waiting five-and-a-half years. Five days later I knew that Jim was dead, and God’s presence with me was not Jim’s presence. That was a terrible fact. God’s presence did not change the terrible fact that I was a widow. Jim’s absence thrust me, forced me, hurried me to God—my hope and my only refuge. And I learned in that experience who God is—who He is in a way that I could never have known otherwise.

Where does this idea of a loving God come from? It is not man so desperately wanting a god that he manufactures him in his mind. It’s He, who was the Word before the foundation of the world, suffering as a lamb slain—and He has a lot up His sleeve that you and I haven’t the slightest idea about now. He’s told us enough so that we know that suffering is not for nothing.

*Excerpted from an interview with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. For more see Elizabeth Elliot’s 7-part video series, Suffering is Not for Nothing.

Today’s Reading
Job 1 (Listen – 3:38)
Romans 5 (Listen – 3:53)


The Freedom of God’s Forgiveness

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” — David, Romans 4.7-8
There are two ways in which a Christian can become trapped in sin. The first is readily recognizable—perpetuation of pride and brokenness despite awareness of their darkness. The other way a Christian can become trapped in sin is to go on living as if he has not been forgiven.

It’s the equivalent of Lazarus shouting back at Jesus from his grave—refusing to come out because he knows he has died and ought not be able to walk normally again among the living. The weight of sin, not the act itself, has become the trap.

Oftentimes people will say things like, “if I could just go back.” This sentiment (it is clearly not a viable solution) is our confession that we would rather solve our greatest problems on our own than have to humble ourselves and accept God’s unmerited grace.
Forgiveness of sins cannot be such that God by a single stroke, as it were, erases all guilt, abrogates all its consequences. Such a craving is only a worldly desire that has no idea of what guilt is. — Kierkegaard
We are truly shocked when we become aware of our sin. Prior to recognizing our failure we would never have confessed such darkness was in us. Yet, if we really believe God foresaw us and sees throughout all time, our sins did not surprise him. We overestimated our intrinsic goodness—feeling as if we had earned God’s approval through our devotion and discipline. God loved us first—even knowing the specific ways in which we were yet sinners.

Once we’ve seen our own unrighteousness, the only way forward is to find the glory of grace greater than the destruction of sin. The Church, at its best, is the spiritual community that surrounds each individual and echoes this truth through word and deed.
You rest in the forgiveness of sins when the thought of God does not remind you of the sin, but that it is forgiven; when the past is not a memory of how much you trespassed, but of how much you have been forgiven. — Kierkegaard
Until we see Christ’s forgiveness of our sins as a blessing, and feel the natural rejoicing of the soul that comes from such a miracle, we have not experienced the full force of forgiveness. Either grace is a mere fantasy—something which would be lovely if it were true—or it is as mighty and wonderful as the Scriptures proclaim it to be.

Today’s Reading
Esther 9-10 (Listen – 6:15)
Romans 4 (Listen – 4:08)